Political Science Political Ambition
Karen Shafer
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0238


Political ambition typically means the desire for officeholders to run for a higher office or for those who do not hold office the desire to run. Having ambition is the precursor to exercising ambition; that is, actually running for office. The most established thread in the political ambition literature concerns the concept of progressive ambition. Progressive political ambition focuses on current officeholders and assumes that once an individual has achieved an elected position, he or she will aspire to a higher office. This literature analyzes both the personal and contextual factors that shape progressive ambition and motivate an individual actually to run for the higher office. Another theme relates to how officeholders with progressive ambition behave differently in their current positions compared to those who do not have progressive ambition. Candidate emergence is another thread within the literature on political ambition. Its focus is on when individuals act on their ambition and become candidates for higher office. Nascent political ambition, another thread in the literature, considers why and when individuals decide to first run for office. Gender is a dominant theme throughout the ambition literature and typically analyzes how the difference in progressive or nascent political ambition helps to explain the gender disparity among elected officials. While not as prevalent as research on gender, another line of literature addresses race and political ambition. Much of the literature on political ambition is about the United States, reflecting the importance of self-selection in the candidate recruitment process. However, there is a growing body of literature regarding political ambition in other regions of the world.

Foundational Works

The concept of political ambition was developed at a time of increased professionalization for elected officeholders. Schlesinger 1966 provides the foundational work for the concept of political ambition and the motivations underlying it. Eulau 1962 first developed the idea of a legislative career and how that impacted behavior. Black 1972 is another seminal work and is the first to introduce a formal cost-benefit model to explain political ambition. Rohde 1979 provides the basis for later studies regarding progressive ambition for sitting members of Congress. Fowler and McClure 1989 provides a similar seminal work considering political ambition and running for Congress. The authors of Herrick and Moore 1983 are among the scholars who have updated Schlesinger’s theory and offer that ambition manifests itself not only in the running for higher office. Maestas, et al. 2006 offers the first revision of progressive ambition and considers strategic and personal factors when running for a higher office. Included in this section is Francis and Kenny 2000 as it is the only current textbook on political ambition. Williams and Lascher 1993 is an edited volume that also provides a good overview of the topic.

  • Black, Gordon. “A Theory of Political Ambition: Career Choices and the Role of Structural Incentives.” American Political Science Review 66 (1972): 144–159.

    DOI: 10.2307/1959283Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Starting from Schlesinger’s work, Black develops a rational choice theory of political ambition. Decision to run for office on two fundamental conditions: the benefits of holding the office must be greater than the costs of obtaining the office as well as be greater than the benefits of some alternative endeavor that could have otherwise been pursued.

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    • Eulau, Heinz. “The Legislative Career.” In The Legislative System: Explorations in Legislative Behavior. Edited by John C. Wahlke, Heinz Eulau, William Buchanan, and LeRoy C. Ferguson, 272–280. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1962.

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      Focuses on developing the set of conditions which shape a legislator career and include past experiences, current situation, and anticipate future outcomes.

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      • Fowler, Linda, and Robert McClure. Political Ambition: Who Decides to Run for Congress. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989.

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        Uses a qualitative case study approach to examine a candidate pool in one congressional district with an open seat. Focus is on state legislators and the decision to run for higher office. Emphasis is placed on those who choose not to run as much as those who do as these non-candidates shape the electoral outcomes. Deciding to run for Congress is not only about ambition but having the needed local organizational support for a candidacy.

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        • Francis, Wayne L., and Lawrence W. Kenny. Up the Political Ladder: Career Paths in U.S. Politics. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2000.

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          A textbook treatment of the topic that provides a good overview of how and when an elected official decides to risk their current elected position and run for a higher office. Broadly focused covering local through national office and considers the impact of external issues such as political party or term limits on the decision to run.

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          • Herrick, Rebekah, and Michael K. Moore. “Political Ambition’s Effects on Legislative Behavior: Schlesinger’s Typology Reconsidered and Revised.” Journal of Politics 55 (1983): 765–776.

            DOI: 10.2307/2132000Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

            Finds that members of Congress who have intra-institutional ambition for leadership positions behave differently and are more effective as legislators than those who have progressive ambition. Suggests that progressive ambition needs to be more subtlety defined.

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            • Maestas, Cherie D., Sarah Fulton, Sandy Maisel, and Walter J. Stone. “When to Risk It? Institutions, Ambitions, and the Decision to Run for the U.S. House.” American Political Science Review 100 (2006): 195–208.

              DOI: 10.1017/S0003055406062101Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

              Considers state legislators and examines the factors forming ambition separate from the factors that determine when an individual exercises that ambition by running for higher office. The authors find it is a combination of institutional, personal, and party recruitment that predicts ambition for higher office.

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              • Rohde, David W. “Risk Bearing and Progressive Ambition: The Case of the United States House of Representatives.” American Journal of Political Science 23 (1979): 1–26.

                DOI: 10.2307/2110769Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                Considers how risk-taking impacts political ambition and finds a positive correlation. Members of the House of Representatives are more likely to run for senator than governor when the probability of winning is higher, and if it is a small state.

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                • Schlesinger, Joseph A. Ambition and Politics: Political Careers in the United States. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1966.

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                  Contends that lower level elected officials will act in a way consistent with their goals of obtaining higher office. These goals are to address both their current constituency and their future constituency.

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                  • Williams, Shirley, and Edward L. Lascher. Ambition and Beyond: Career Paths of American Politicians. Berkeley: Institute of Governmental Studies Press, University of California, Berkeley, 1993.

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                    An edited volume on all facets of the legislative career. Several chapters address the decision to run while others review careers at the local, state, or national levels. The review chapter by Timothy S. Prinz is the most instructive in providing an overview of the topic.

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                    Progressive Political Ambition

                    Inherent in the idea of progressive political ambition is that holding an elected office is a career and individuals seek to move up a career ladder like that found in a corporation or a military. However, the majority of officeholders do not seek higher office despite the latent ambition to do so. Instead elected officials exhibit discrete ambition, which is when they retire after one term; or static ambition, which is when they only seek reelection to the current office. Much of the literature regarding progressive ambition seeks to explain the factors that help promote or suppress running for higher office. These factors can be based on the individual, such as age, or can relate to the political environment, like the presence of a strong incumbent in the next position up the ladder. Often the decision to run for higher office is conceptualized as a cost and benefit analysis with these factors weighing into the decision. The idea of the strategic politician is a closely related idea. This section is organized by level of office, reflecting the underlying assumption of progressive ambition—that is, that local officials aspire to state level offices and state officials aspire to national office. The studies below do not include gender as a primary focus. See Gender and Federal Officeholders and Gender and State Officeholders for studies that directly address gender and progressive political ambition.

                    Federal Officeholders

                    Studies regarding progressive ambition at the federal level primarily focus on members of the US House of Representatives and seek to understand why some members run for the US Senate and/or governorships. Brace 1984 extends the foundational model developed by Rohde 1979 (cited under Foundational Works). Maisel, et al. 1997 considers open US Senate seat elections as the best test for determining when ambition is exercised. Kiewiet and Zeng 1993 expands the models of ambition by introducing a third option for sitting members—retirement. Hall and van Houweling 1995 takes a different approach in conceptualizing ambition as the decision to run for re-election. There is some limited literature that addresses national level officials beyond US House members. Abramson, et al. 1987 examines the progressive ambition of US senators and their presidential aspirations. Contrary to most studies in the field that address elected officials, Nicholls 1991 considers the political ambition of presidential appointees.

                    • Abramson, Paul R., John H. Aldrich, and David W. Rohde. “Progressive Ambition among United States Senators: 1972–1988.” Journal of Politics 49 (1987): 3–35.

                      DOI: 10.2307/2131132Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                      Develops a rational-choice model to explain which senators will run for president and finds partisan difference. Suggests that a longer Senate career is less beneficial for Republicans seeking office than Democrats.

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                      • Brace, Paul. “Progressive Ambition in the House: A Probabilistic Approach.” Journal of Politics 46 (1984): 556–569.

                        DOI: 10.2307/2130975Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                        Predicts the likelihood a member of the US House of Representatives will seek either a Senate seat or governorship based on contextual factors related to the current and higher office. The nature of the opportunity to seek the higher office appears shaped in part by circumstances rather than ambition.

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                        • Hall, Richard L., and Robert P. van Houweling. “Avarice and Ambition in Congress: Representatives’ Decisions to Run or Retire from the U.S. House.” American Political Science Review 89 (1995): 121–136.

                          DOI: 10.2307/2083079Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                          Used Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments as a way to frame political career decisions. Ambition in this context refers to running for re-election rather than retiring. Find that the career decisions made are not fundamentally driven by economic factors envisioned by Smith.

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                          • Kiewiet, D. Roderick, and Langche Zeng. “An Analysis of Congressional Career Decisions, 1947–1986.” American Political Science Review 87 (1993): 924–941.

                            DOI: 10.2307/2938824Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                            Considers political ambition beyond the idea of running for re-election versus running for a higher office by considering retirement as a third option. Finds that these three decisions are interrelated in that those at risk in redistricting were likely to run for higher office given the opportunity.

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                            • Maisel, L. Sandy, Kara E. Falkenstein, and Alexander M. Quigley. “Senate Retirements and Progressive Ambition among House Members in 1996.” Congress and the Presidency 24 (1997): 131–148.

                              DOI: 10.1080/07343469709507815Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                              Develops a model to predict if members of the House of Representatives will run for office when there is an open Senate seat based on the individual’s decision-making process. Party leadership and competition plays a role in shaping progressive ambition even when the opportunity of an open seat is present.

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                              • Nicholls, Keith. “The Dynamics of National Executive Service: Ambition Theory and the Careers of Presidential Cabinet Members.” The Western Political Quarterly 44 (1991): 149–172.

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                                Considers both the recruitment and career ladder of individuals appointed to the president’s cabinet. Extensive review starting with President Washington. Finds differences in the initial appointments made by a president and replacement appointee.

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                                State Officeholders

                                State legislators provide a fertile ground for researching progressive ambition given the diversity of institutional factors and officeholders at the state level. Schlesinger 1966 (cited under Foundational Works), a foundational work on progressive ambition, identified the state legislature as one of the main rungs on the political career ladder. These different institutional factors and how they impact ambition are analyzed in Berkman 1994. Soule 1969 uses a case study approach to examine one state. Francis 1993 examines movement from the lower to upper state chamber. Personal factors such as age as discussed by Hain 1974 also influence the decision to run for higher office.

                                • Berkman, Michael B. “State Legislators in Congress: Strategic Politicians, Professional Legislatures, and the Party Nexus.” American Journal of Political Science 38 (1994): 1025–1055.

                                  DOI: 10.2307/2111731Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                  Considers how contextual factors of state legislatures including professionalism and value of longevity shape progressive ambition. Concludes that these contextual factors shape ambition differently for Republicans and Democrats.

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                                  • Francis, Wayne. “House to Senate Movement in the U.S. States.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 18 (1993): 309–320.

                                    DOI: 10.2307/439828Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                    Examines state legislators and movement to the upper state chamber contrary to typical studies that focus on Congress. Members of the state lower chamber have much more opportunity to exhibit progressive ambition than their national counterparts.

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                                    • Hain, Paul L. “Age, Ambitions, and Political Careers: The Middle Age Crisis.” Western Political Quarterly 27 (1974): 265–274.

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                                      Addresses how age impacts an individual’s political ambition, with older state legislators having less progressive ambition than their younger colleagues. The relationship between age and ambition is not linear, but rather ambition drops substantively at around fifty years old.

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                                      • Soule, John W. “Future Political Ambitions and the Behavior of Incumbent State Legislators.” Midwest Journal of Politics 13 (1969): 439–454.

                                        DOI: 10.2307/2110233Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                        In examining the Michigan state legislature, finds that progressive ambition impacts voting behavior to gain the support of the potential future constituency.

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                                        Local Officeholders

                                        Although Black’s development of the theory of progressive ambition was based on city council members, the body of research on local officials is very limited (Black 1972, cited under Foundational Works). Much of the literature at the local level considers the intersection of gender and ambition (see Political Ambition and Gender), but is included here to capture the progression up the political career ladder. Van Assendelft and Stottlemyer 2009 surveys all types of local officeholders. Budd, et al. 2015 only considers mayors while Deckman 2007 analyzes the political ambition of school board members.

                                        • van Assendelft, Laura, and Cynthia Stottlemyer. “Women in Local Public Office: A Case Study of Southwest/Western Virginia.” Virginia Social Science Journal 44 (2009): 1–21.

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                                          Surveyed female officeholders in the full range of local governments. Less than a quarter of respondents indicated they had an interest in running for higher office indicating that local government is not a pipeline for potential state and national candidates.

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                                          • Budd, Darlene M., Angelique Myers, and Thomas Longoria. “The Role of Gendered Policy Agenda in Closing the Mayoral Ambition Gap: The Case of Texas Female City Council Members.” Journal of Research on Women and Gender 6 (2015): 81–93.

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                                            Surveyed sitting female council members regarding their progressive ambition. An emphasis in policies traditionally supported by women was the main predictor in expressing a desire to run for mayor.

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                                            • Deckman, Melissa. “Gender Differences in the Decision to Run for School Board.” American Politics Research 35 (2007): 541–563.

                                              DOI: 10.1177/1532673X07299196Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                              Since local office is seen as an electoral stepping stone, school boards are examined since women are elected to these offices at a higher rate. Gaining political experiences as a reason to run for office was not significant for men or women, suggesting political ambition is not a factor in these local races.

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                                              Political Ambition and Office Behavior

                                              Another line of literature compares the behavior of officeholders who ultimately run for higher office to those who do not. Hibbing 1986 provides insight into how political ambition alters behavior for members of the US House of Representatives. Maestas 2003 focuses on ambition and behavior of state legislators. Carnes 2016 is one of the only scholars considering the intersection of socioeconomic class and office holding. Prewitt and Nowlin 1969 focuses on how progressive ambition shapes the behavior of city council members.

                                              • Carnes, Nicholas. “Why Are There So Few Working-Class People in Political Office? Evidence from State Legislatures.” Politics, Grounds, and Identities 4 (2016): 84–109.

                                                DOI: 10.1080/21565503.2015.1066689Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                Examines state legislatures to determine what factors influence working-class individuals from becoming state legislators. Rather than lacking the skills or resources to run for office, it is the structural political environment that helps to determine the proportion of working-class individuals holding office.

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                                                • Hibbing, John R. “Ambition in the House: Behavioral Consequences of Higher Office Goals among U.S. Representatives.” American Journal of Political Science 30 (1986): 651–665.

                                                  DOI: 10.2307/2111094Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                  Finds that members of the House of Representatives who run for the US Senate alter their voting behavior to account for a statewide rather than district-wide constituency. This shift in voting behavior is most significant in members from populous states.

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                                                  • Maestas, Cherie. “The Incentive to Listen: Progressive Ambition, Resources, and Opinion Monitoring Among State Legislators.” The Journal of Politics 65 (2003): 439–456.

                                                    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2508.t01-3-00008Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                    Using survey data from eight state legislatures finds that activity learning about public opinion is a hallmark of those with progressive ambition. Thus, progressive ambition impacts behavior beyond the act of voting.

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                                                    • Prewitt, Kenneth, and William Nowlin. “Political Ambitions and the Behavior of Incumbent Politicians.” Western Political Quarterly 22 (1969): 298–308.

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                                                      Considers how political ambition alters the behaviors of sitting council members. Those with progressive ambition are more likely to have broad rather than narrow policy perspectives and favor policies that expand the policy scope of higher levels of government.

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                                                      Ambition and Candidate Emergence

                                                      Candidate emergence occurs when an individual acts on his or her political ambition and runs for office. Canon 1993 explains when ambitious candidates run against incumbents. Stone and Maisel 2003 uses a survey-based approach to study ambition and candidate emergence from a pool of potential candidates. The concept that emergent ambition is dynamic rather than fixed is described by Fox and Lawless 2011. Maisel and Stone 2014 considers the role recruitment plays in shaping emergent political ambition. Sanbonmatsu 2006 continues that theme by looking at how political parties recruit candidates. Kazee 1994, an edited volume, attempts to find the common hallmarks of political ambition drawn from case studies. Moncrief, et al. 2001 provides the most comprehensive assessment of who decides to run at the state level.

                                                      • Canon, David T. “Sacrificial Lambs or Strategic Politicians.” American Journal of Political Science 37 (1993): 1119–1141.

                                                        DOI: 10.2307/2111546Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                        Considered why challengers run against incumbent members of the House of Representatives. No single type of challenger exists as these individuals fall into two categories: ambition amateurs versus experience seekers. The context of the election makes the difference, and the ambition amateurs are more likely to run in races they can potentially win.

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                                                        • Fox, Richard L., and Jennifer L. Lawless. “Gaining and Losing Interest in Running for Public Office: The Concept of Dynamic Political Ambition.” The Journal of Politics 73 (2011): 443–462.

                                                          DOI: 10.1017/S0022381611000120Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                          Posits that for any given individual emergent political ambition is not static but varies over time. Uses panel data to test the concept and finds that a sizable minority have shifting levels of ambition largely shaped by perceptions of efficacy.

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                                                          • Kazee, Thomas A., ed. Who Runs for Congress? Ambition, Context, and Candidate Emergence. Washington, DC: CQ Press, 1994.

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                                                            This edited volume includes multiple case studies of congressional districts to analyze the topic. The editor’s concluding chapter is most informative as it weaves the district-specific analysis into a framework about the calculus used by potential candidates deciding to run for office.

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                                                            • Maisel, L. Sandy, and Walter J. Stone. “Candidate Emergence Revisited: The Lingering Effects of Recruitment, Ambition, and Successful Prospects among House Candidates.” Political Science Quarter 129 (2014): 429–447.

                                                              DOI: 10.1002/polq.12217Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                              Extension of the 1998 Candidate Emergence Study that examines the behavior of the original respondents from 1998–2012. Findings indicate the importance of recruitment on entry behavior in addition to the perceived costs and benefits of running for Congress.

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                                                              • Moncrief, Gary F., Peverill Squire, and Malcolm E. Jewell. Who Runs for the Legislature? Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.

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                                                                A comprehensive text on who and why individuals run for the state legislature. In addition to state and district, specific variables the authors examine individual factors when making the decision to run for office. The characteristics of individuals recruited to run for office is also a focus.

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                                                                • Sanbonmatsu, Kira. “The Legislative Party and Candidate Recruitment in the American States.” Party Politics 2 (2006): 233–256.

                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/1354068806061339Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                  Finds that the leadership in the lower state house plays a more active role in recruiting candidates for the state legislature than the local or state political parties. These recruitment efforts shape political ambition and impact the decision-making process of potential candidates.

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                                                                  • Stone, Walter J., and L. Sandy Maisel. “The Not-So-Simple Calculus of Winning: Potential U.S. House Candidates Nominations and General Election Prospects.” Journal of Politics 65 (2003): 955–971.

                                                                    DOI: 10.1111/1468-2508.t01-1-00120Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                    Analysis based on the Candidate Emergence Study which developed a pool of potential candidates from knowledgeable individuals in two hundred congressional districts. Finds that ambition to run is a two-stage process with not only the perception of the general election outcome but also the primary playing a role in the decision to run.

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                                                                    Nascent Political Ambition

                                                                    Another major theme in the political ambition literature relates to what factors motivate individuals to decide to run for office in the first place. Typically called emergent or nascent political ambition, much of this literature addresses why only a few people well positioned to run for office actually do so and how they differ from the majority of people who do not seek elected office. Canon 1990 considers why political amateurs act as they do when they decide to run for office. Ehrenhalt 1991 addresses entrepreneurialism as a key trait for expressing political ambition. Gaddie 2004 considers nascent ambition through the lens of first time candidates. The remaining entries in this section, Fox and Lawless 2005, Lawless and Fox 2005, Lawless and Fox 2010, and Lawless 2012, comprise the primary foundation for gender-based political ambition studies. See Political Ambition and Gender for an extended discussion of this line of the literature.

                                                                    • Canon, David T. Actors, Athletes, and Astronauts: Political Amateurs in the United States Congress. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

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                                                                      Finds that some political newcomers are strategic political actors despite not holding office prior to running for Congress. For these individuals it is the electoral and partisan factors that influence them to become candidates.

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                                                                      • Ehrenhalt, Alan. The United States of Ambition: Politicians, Power, and the Pursuit of Office. New York: Random House, 1991.

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                                                                        Focuses on entrepreneurial individuals being drawn to political office especially in the absence of a strong party system. He concludes individuals must nominate themselves and explores the political implications of these individuals holding office.

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                                                                        • Fox, Richard L., and Jennifer L. Lawless. “To Run or Not to Run for Office: Explaining Nascent Political Ambition.” American Journal of Political Science 49 (2005): 642–659.

                                                                          DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2005.00147.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                          Developed a theory of nascent ambition distinct from expressive ambition. Argues that ambition is different between potential candidates and actual candidates. A general sense of efficacy and individual possesses the qualifications to run are the most significant factors predicting which potential candidates express nascent ambition to run for office.

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                                                                          • Gaddie, Ronald Keith. Born to Run: Origins of the Political Career. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.

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                                                                            A qualitative case study of nine candidates running for their first office that is supplemented with quantitative data. Focus is on young candidates with limited relevant experience to assess why they decided to run. Finds emergent ambition is shaped by various external contextual factors in addition to personal ones.

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                                                                            • Lawless, L. Jennifer. Becoming a Candidate: Political Ambition and the Decision to Run for Office. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

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                                                                              Using both qualitative and quantitative analysis finds that family dynamics and professional circumstances are key in shaping nascent political ambition. Further, these initial considerations about the possibility to run for office are only the first level of deciding to run for office and unlike the second level are not shaped by the electoral environment.

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                                                                              • Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard L. Fox. It Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.

                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511790898Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                The most extensive treatment of the lack of female candidates. Using both qualitative and quantitative date from their Citizen Political Ambition study the authors find that not only do women view the qualification for running for office higher than their male counterparts, but they also assess their own qualifications as lower.

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                                                                                • Lawless, Jennifer L., and Richard L. Fox. It Still Takes a Candidate: Why Women Don’t Run for Office. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

                                                                                  DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511778797Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                  An extension of their foundation work from 2005, this book adds panel data to the cross-sectional analysis from the first. Further, the authors examine the importance of recruitment for women candidates and find that organizations can play a critical role in motivating women to run for office.

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                                                                                  Political Ambition and Gender

                                                                                  Research has concluded that gender shapes both nascent and progressive political ambition. Substantive differences are found in nascent ambition, and there is a line of literature that attempts to explain why these differences exist. A key thread in this literature also considers how political parties cultivate ambition despite the relatively limited role parties play in candidate recruitment in the United States. The literature in this section also includes gender-based studies of progressive ambition recognizing the importance of considering gender in understanding how the career ladder for women may differ from that of men. This section also addresses gender and ambition at the state and national level. See Local Officeholders for research done at the local level.

                                                                                  Nascent Political Ambition and Gender

                                                                                  The issue of gender and emergent ambition is extensively covered as it is one of the ways scholars attempt to explain gender differences in holding elected office. Sapiro 1982 is the first to consider family context as a determinant of political ambition. Fox and Lawless 2014a provides a contemporary update to Sapiro 1982 by addressing the interaction of family and political ambition. Moore 2005 addresses how gender and political ambition intersect with religion and race. Kanthak and Woon 2014 uses a unique experimental approach to consider gender differences in candidacy self-selection. Fox and Lawless 2014b examines gender differences in political ambition for youth and young adults. Schneider, et al. 2016 examines how the frame for a potential candidacy can impact expressed political ambition.

                                                                                  • Fox, Richard L., and Jennifer L. Lawless. “Reconciling Family Roles with Political Ambition: The New Normal for Women in Twenty-First Century U.S. Politics.” The Journal of Politics 76 (2014a): 398–414.

                                                                                    DOI: 10.1017/S0022381613001473Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                    Extends the findings of earlier studies. When controlling for family situation and perceptions of family responsibilities, the authors do not find that family impacts political ambition differently for men and women. Thus, perceptions are critical.

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                                                                                    • Fox, Richard L., and Jennifer L. Lawless. “Uncovering the Origins of the Gender Gap in Political Ambition” American Political Science Review 108 (2014b): 499–519.

                                                                                      DOI: 10.1017/S0003055414000227Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                      Survey of high school and college students reveal significant gender differences in ambition that appear well before individuals can be potential candidates. Provides evidence that early political socialization shapes political ambition.

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                                                                                      • Kanthak, Kristin, and Jonathan Woon. “Women Don’t Run? Election Aversion and Candidate Entry.” American Journal of Political Science 59 (2014): 595–612.

                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/ajps.12158Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                        Finds that women are more likely to be averse to running for election compared to men, but not for volunteering for the same task. Posits that differences in risk aversion rather than ambition drive the gender gap in elected office.

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                                                                                        • Moore, Robert G. “Religion, Race, and Gender Differences in Political Ambition.” Politics & Gender 1 (2005): 577–596.

                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/S1743923X05050154Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                          Finds education is a predictor of ambition only for white women. Conservative religious views increase ambition among minority women but decrease it for white women.

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                                                                                          • Sapiro, Virginia. “Private Costs of Public Commitments or Public Costs of Private Commitments? Family Roles versus Political Ambition.” American Journal of Political Science 26 (1982): 265–279.

                                                                                            DOI: 10.2307/2111039Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                            Finds that the tension between family and running for office exists for both males and females. However, females are more likely to avoid conflict between the two spheres and not run for office while this conflict did not deter males.

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                                                                                            • Schneider, Monica C., Mirya R. Holman, Amanda B. Diekman, and Thomas McAndrew. “Power, Conflict, and Community: How Gendered View of Political Power Influence Women’s Political Ambition.” Political Psychology 37 (2016): 515–531.

                                                                                              DOI: 10.1111/pops.12268Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                              Finds that women and men respond to different types of gendered frames when considering running for office. Women are more likely to express ambition when elected office is framed as furthering communal goals rather than as a way to gain power.

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                                                                                              Ambition, Gender, and Political Parties

                                                                                              The earliest studies on women and political ambition focused almost exclusively on the party elite; that is those who are activists and/or delegate to the national nominating conventions. Farah 1976 addresses how the level of office impacts expressed ambition. Sapiro and Farah 1980 provides analysis into how gender and party affiliation intersect. Fowlkes 1984 addresses how socialization relates to political ambition among the elites. Carroll 1985 provides early insight into how emergent political ambition addresses the gender differences in office holding. Clark, et al. 1989 surveys female party activists to examine the relationship between socialization and ambition. Costantini 1990 exams changes in emergent political ambition during a twenty-year period.

                                                                                              • Carroll, Susan. “Political Elites and Sex Differences in Political Ambition: A Reconsideration.” The Journal of Politics 47 (1985): 1231–1243.

                                                                                                DOI: 10.2307/2130817Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                Determines that gender differences in political ambition among political elites require a more nuanced conclusion. Ambition differences are found among non-office-holding activists, but it disappears among officeholders.

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                                                                                                • Clark, Janet, Charles Hadley, and Robert Darcy. “Political Ambition among Men and Women State Party Leaders.” American Politics Quarterly 17 (1989): 194–207.

                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1177/1532673X8901700206Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                  Finds limited gender differences in socialization for those who were political ambitious and that adult experiences are the main determinants of the desire to run for office.

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                                                                                                  • Costantini, Edmond. “Political Women and Political Ambition: Closing the Gender Gap.” American Journal of Political Science 34 (1990): 741–770.

                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/2111397Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                    Finds that while the gender gap in ambition is persistent, it closes to some extent over time. Women elites are more likely to focus on internal party maintenance than external office seeking suggesting a different type of motivation.

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                                                                                                    • Farah, Barbara G. “Climbing the Political Ladder: The Aspirations and Expectations of Partisan Elites.” In New Research on Women and Sex Roles at the University of Michigan. Edited by Dorothy G. McGuigan, 238–250. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Center for the Continuing Education of Women, 1976.

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                                                                                                      For women, the barriers to running for local office are far lower than for state offices. The presence of more role models, as well as interest in local affairs, may account for these differences.

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                                                                                                      • Fowlkes, Diane L. “Ambitious Political Women: Counter-Socialization and Political Party Context.” Women and Politics 4 (1984): 5–32.

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                                                                                                        Finds that socialization experience of Democratic women enhances ambition while it does not impact Republican women. This difference is explained by the contemporary dominance of the Democratic Party. Further, argues that the costs ambitious women must bear are higher than men due to socialization.

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                                                                                                        • Sapiro, Virginia, and Barbara Farah. “New Pride and Old Prejudice: Among Female Partisan Elites.” Women and Politics 1 (1980): 13–37.

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                                                                                                          Surveyed delegates to the 1972 national nominating conventions. While gender was not a significant factor in shaping ambition for party office, it was for political offices. Further, female Democrats were more likely to express ambition than Republicans.

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                                                                                                          Gender and Federal Officeholders

                                                                                                          Much of the literature on gender and federal office-holding analyzes when state legislators decide to run for Congress. Rule 1981 provides state-based analysis of both the recruitment to the state legislature and the U.S. Congress. Gertzog 2002 addresses the importance of holding office prior to a successful run for Congress. Fulton, et al. 2006 incorporates anticipated benefit into the calculus for running for Congress. Factors contributing to a gendered pipeline are analyzed in Mariani 2008. Contrary to the other literature, Palmer and Simon 2003 considers ambition for sitting members of the U.S. House of Representatives.

                                                                                                          • Fulton, Sarah. A., Cherie D. Maestas, L. Sandy Maisel, and Walter J. Stone. “The Sense of a Woman: Gender, Ambition, and the Decision to Run for Congress.” Political Research Quarterly (2006): 235–248.

                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1177/106591290605900206Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                            Incorporates the idea of anticipated benefit into a model of when state legislators run for Congress. The perceived benefit of winning higher office was more significant for women, helping to explain why women are just as likely to run for higher office as men despite lower levels of ambition.

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                                                                                                            • Gertzog, Irwin N. “Women’s Changing Pathways to the U.S. House of Representatives.” In Women Transforming Congress. Edited by Cindy Simon Rosenthal, 95–118. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

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                                                                                                              Describes women as strategic politicians and how prior election in a state or local office is the key credential for women, especially African-American women to run for and win a seat in Congress.

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                                                                                                              • Mariani, Mack D. “A Gendered Pipeline? The Advancement of State Legislators to Congress in Five States.” Politics & Gender 4 (2008): 285–308.

                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/S1743923X08000196Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                Finds that the impediments to progressive ambition differ between male and female state legislatures. These include age, family structure, and profession. Conceptualizing the pipeline as gendered helps to determine who will seek higher office.

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                                                                                                                • Palmer, Barbara, and Dennis Simon. “Political Ambition and Women in the U.S. House of Representatives, 1916–2000.” Political Research Quarterly 56 (2003): 127–138.

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                                                                                                                  Analyzes discrete, static, and progressive ambition among female members of the House of Representatives. Finds several predictors that indicate the presence of each type of ambition, providing a way to connect them when modeling behavior.

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                                                                                                                  • Rule, Wilma. “Why Women Don’t Run: The Critical Contextual Factors in Women’s Legislative Recruitment.” Western Political Quarterly 34 (1981): 60–77.

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                                                                                                                    Finds that the contextual factors impacting the proportion of female candidates differed at the two levels of government so increasing the number of female state legislators does not translate into increases in Congress.

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                                                                                                                    Gender and State Officeholders

                                                                                                                    The research on political ambition and gender done at the state level reflects a diversity of positions, and the findings of these studies are not always consistent. Burt-Way and Kelly 1992 considered ambition for running for the state legislature. Thomas, et al. 2002 addresses the barriers to expressed political ambition to run for the state legislature. Windett 2014 considers political ambition and running for governor. Jensen and Martinek 2009 models progressive ambition among justices of the New York State Supreme Court. Sinofsky 2015 analyzes political ambition among state-level appointees.

                                                                                                                    • Burt-Way, Barbara J., and Rita Mae Kelly. “Gender and Sustaining Political Ambition: A Study of Arizona Elected Officials.” Western Political Quarterly 45 (1992): 11–25.

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                                                                                                                      Surveyed local elected officials and found gender differences in how success was perceived. These differences help to explain why the male officials were more likely to have progressive ambition while the female officials were more likely to remain in their current office.

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                                                                                                                      • Jensen, Jennifer M., and Wendy L. Martinek. “The Effects of Race and Gender on the Judicial Ambitions of State Trial Court Judges.” Political Research Quarterly 62 (2009): 379–392.

                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1177/1065912908319574Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                        Finds contrary to expectations that women and minority justices are more politically ambitious than their white male counterparts. Further, the authors suggest ambition manifests itself differently in the judicial versus legislative branch.

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                                                                                                                        • Sinofsky, Kaitlin. “Moving on Up? The Gendered Ambitions of State-Level Appointed Officials.” Political Research Quarterly 68 (2015): 802–815.

                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1177/1065912915607638Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                          Considers how appointed officials factor into the pipeline for elective office. Appointed women are less ambitious than their male counterparts consistent with research on elected officials. However, women who highly assess their own skills are also less ambitious contrary to much of the literature on emerging political ambition.

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                                                                                                                          • Thomas, Sue, Rebekah Herrick, and Matthew Braunstein. “Legislative Careers: The Personal and the Political.” In Women Transforming Congress. Edited by Cindy Simon Rosenthal, 397–421. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2002.

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                                                                                                                            Examines the gender differences in the home/private life and how the differences impact political careers. Finds private gender roles are not changing despite an opening of public gender roles.

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                                                                                                                            • Windett, Jason H. “Differing Paths to the Top: Gender, Ambition, and Running for Governor.” Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 35 (2014): 287–314.

                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1080/1554477X.2014.955403Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                              A qualitative study that finds female governors and gubernatorial candidates follow a traditional career path to the office although they are more likely to be risk-takers than their male counterparts. Contrary to the findings by Fox and Lawless, family plays central role in shaping ambition or the decision to run for office.

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                                                                                                                              Race and Political Ambition

                                                                                                                              Unlike the extensive literature on gender and political ambition, there is only a limited body of work that examines race and nascent or progressive political ambition. Stone 1980 is the first study to apply the theories of Schlesinger 1966 (cited under Foundational Works) to African American politicians. Perkins 1986 analyzes the intersection of race and gender. Johnson, et al. 2012 examines why progressive ambition is not typically found in African American House members. Shaha 2015 considers progressive ambition and race when running for local office.

                                                                                                                              • Johnson, Gbemende, Bruce I. Oppenheimer, and Jennifer L. Selin. “The House as a Stepping Stone to the Senate: Why Do So Few African American House Members Run?” American Journal of Political Science 56 (2012): 387–399.

                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2011.00562.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                Finds contextual factors rather than race impacts strategic career decisions by African American Members of Congress. However, some of the contextual issues such as state size do differ by race.

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                                                                                                                                • Perkins, Jerry. “Political Ambition among Black and White Women: An Intragender Test of the Socialization Model.” Women and Politics 6 (1986): 27–40.

                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1080/1554477X.1986.9970441Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                  Examines socialization and how it impacts women’s political ambition. Finds racial differences as African American women are motivated to run for office for different reasons.

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                                                                                                                                  • Shaha, Paru. “Stepping Up: Black Political Ambition and Success.” Politics, Groups, and Identities 3 (2015): 278–294.

                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.1080/21565503.2015.1031801Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                    Finds that in local elections, political ambition is largely the same between black and white candidates. However, since black candidates are more likely to lose, there is a racial difference in the candidate pipeline.

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                                                                                                                                    • Stone, Pauline. “Ambition Theory and the Black Politician.” Western Political Quarterly 33 (1980): 94–107.

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                                                                                                                                      Finds little differences in the characteristics of African American officeholders who have progressive versus static ambition. These findings are contrary to earlier studies on white officeholders.

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                                                                                                                                      Political Ambition Research Outside of the United States

                                                                                                                                      The concept of political ambition, especially emergent political ambition, is less relevant outside of the United States due to the different role political parties play in recruiting candidates to stand for office. However, the idea of a career path for officeholders does apply to other democracies, so most studies done outside of the United States focus on progressive ambition. This section includes a collection of English-language studies on progressive ambition categorizes as either European and Canadian or Latin American. Often European studies at the national level also consider the European Parliament as another rung on the career ladder. In Latin American, most of the research is focused on Brazil, but there is also a line of comparative literature.

                                                                                                                                      Europe and Canada

                                                                                                                                      Research on political ambition in Europe and Canada is varied in scope and office level. Scarrow 1997 considers how the European Parliament is included in the political career ladder. Meserve, et al. 2009 considers how political ambition shapes legislative behavior. Galais, et al. 2016 is one of the few studies to consider the interaction of gender and progressive political ambition outside of the United States and do so in a comparative manner. Buckley, et al. 2015 also considers gender and if local office is a pipeline to national office in Ireland. Claveria and Verge 2015 examines twenty-three primarily European countries on the immediate position taken by ex-cabinet members. Ritz 2015 examines local officeholders in Switzerland. Barrie and Gibbins 1989 applies the Schlesinger 1966 (cited under Foundational Works) theory of political ambition to Canada.

                                                                                                                                      • Barrie, Doreen, and Roger Gibbins. “Parliamentary Careers in the Canadian Federal State.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 22 (1989): 137–143.

                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1017/S0008423900000871Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                        Finds that two parallel career structures exist with one at the province level and the other national, contrary to the more singular path in the United States.

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                                                                                                                                        • Buckley, Fiona, Mack Mariani, Claire McGing, and Timothy White. “Ireland’s Local Office a Springboard for Women to Dáil Éireann?” Journal of Women, Politics & Policy 36 (2015): 311–335.

                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1080/1554477X.2015.1050912Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                          Finds that holding local elected office is a far more important precursor for women than men who are elected to the Irish national parliament and that most women who are successful have that prior experience.

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                                                                                                                                          • Claveria, Sílvia, and Tània Verge. “Post-ministerial Occupation in Advanced Industrial Democracies: Ambition, Individual Resources and Institutional Opportunity Structures.” European Journal of Political Research 54 (2015): 819–835.

                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1111/1475-6765.12107Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                            Conducts an extensive comparative analysis. Finds that most former ministers use the office as a stepping stone to higher public or party offices.

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                                                                                                                                            • Galais, Carol, Patrik Öhberg, and Xavier Coller. “Endurance at the Top: Gender and Political Ambition of Spanish and Swedish MPs.” Politics & Gender 12 (2016): 596–621.

                                                                                                                                              DOI: 10.1017/S1743923X16000416Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                              The comparative approach highlights that political ambition for women is shaped by country-specific factors.

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                                                                                                                                              • Meserve, Stephen A., Daniel Pemstein, and William T. Bernhard. “Political Ambition and Legislative Behavior in the European Parliament.” The Journal of Politics 71 (2009): 1015–1032.

                                                                                                                                                DOI: 10.1017/S0022381609090859Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                Determines that voting behavior in the European Parliament is conditioned on whether the member has political ambition for a higher office within the European Union Parliament or in their home country.

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                                                                                                                                                • Ritz, Adrian. “Public Service Motivation and Politics: Behavioural Consequences among Local Councillors in Switzerland.” Public Administration 93 (2015): 1121–1137.

                                                                                                                                                  DOI: 10.1111/padm.12193Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                  Adds an egalitarian motivation to electoral office in addition to political ambition. Finds most local government officials are a combination of community- and self-interested though those self-interested are less likely to focus on general governing tasks.

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                                                                                                                                                  • Scarrow, Susan E. “Political Career Paths and the European Parliament.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 22 (1997): 253–263.

                                                                                                                                                    DOI: 10.2307/440385Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                    Finds that some members of the European Parliament have career paths within the institution while others see it as a step into higher national office. Further, some older national elected officials find the European Union Parliament as a place to finish out their career before retirement.

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                                                                                                                                                    Latin America

                                                                                                                                                    Most of the research on political ambition in Latin America analyzes Brazil although some researchers take a comparative approach. Samuels 2003 is the most extensive work in English that applies the Schlesinger 1966 (cited under Foundational Works) theory of political ambition outside of the United States. Leoni, et al. 2004 analyzes how ambition is different in Brazil than the United States given the high turnover in the Chamber of Deputies. Desposato 2006 examines how switching parties is related to ambition in Brazil. Siavelis and Morgenstern 2012, an edited volume, spans six Latin American countries with separate case studies for both legislative and executive offices. Kernecker 2016 provides a comparative study of national legislators in Latin American countries.

                                                                                                                                                    • Desposato, Scott W. “Parties for Rent? Ambition, Ideology, and Party Switching in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies.” American Journal of Political Science 50 (2006): 62–80.

                                                                                                                                                      DOI: 10.1111/j.1540-5907.2006.00170.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                      Analyzes how party switching is a mechanism used for political ambition as the rate of change is one of the highest among democracies. Switching is tied to enhancing re-election rates although this switching is to ideological proximate parties.

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                                                                                                                                                      • Kernecker, Theresa. “Political Ambition in 14 Presidential Democracies.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 41 (2016): 393–417.

                                                                                                                                                        DOI: 10.1111/lsq.12131Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                        Focus is on progressive ambition and dominance of personal versus party loyalty in making career decisions.

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                                                                                                                                                        • Leoni, Eduardo, Carlos Pereira, and Lúcio Rennó. “Political Survival Strategies: Political Career Decisions in the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies.” Journal of Latin American 36 (2004): 109–130.

                                                                                                                                                          DOI: 10.1017/S0022216X03007090Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                          Expands the standard model of political ambition to include regression ambition; that is, national deputies running for mayor. These individuals had similar characteristics to those running for governor or the Senate.

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                                                                                                                                                          • Samuels, David. Ambition, Federalism, and Legislative Politics in Brazil. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003.

                                                                                                                                                            DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511510366Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

                                                                                                                                                            Finds that while the theory in Schlesinger 1966 applies to Brazil, there is a difference in the hierarchy of office in Brazil due to the type of federalism and comparatively weak national government. These differences impact the cost and benefit structure of the decision making. The national Chamber of Deputies is seen as a lower office on the way to a governorship.

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                                                                                                                                                            • Siavelis, Peter M., and Scott Morgenstern, eds. Pathways to Power: Political Recruitment and Candidate Selection in Latin America. University Park: Penn State University Press, 2012.

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                                                                                                                                                              While not focused exclusively on ambition, the chapters on the Brazilian and Columbian legislature feature the concept more heavily than the other chapter. In the other countries, party loyalists and the elite rather than ambition determine candidate selection.

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