Minnesota Research Shows Programs are Increasing Political Ambition among Women

April 1, 2009


By Debra Fitzpatrick, Associate Director, Center on Women and Public Policy, University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute and Lead Researcher on Women’s Path to Political Office research collaborative.

Good news out of a new Minnesota data collection and research collaborative designed to improve gender equality in political representation:  efforts to increase political ambition are working, especially for young women and women of color.   

The percentage of women of color and younger women (under 35) that participated in 2008 White House Project Go Run! trainings in Minnesota who said they were likely or very likely to run for office nearly doubled (from around 50% before the training to nearly 100% after the training).  A significant majority of women candidates involved with Progressive Majority’s Minnesota program said that the most instrumental thing in their decision to run was the support of organizations and individuals, compared to men in the same program who cited issues and dissatisfaction with current representation.  These statistics, among others, point to the critical role support programs are playing in long term efforts designed to address stagnant growth rates in the number of women candidates and elected officials.

The collaborative is funded by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota and lead by Debra Fitzpatrick at the University of Minnesota Humphrey Institute’s Center on Women and Public Policy.  Through the collaborative, scientifically sound, high quality, in-depth, longitudinal data on over 200 men and women candidates and potential candidates has been collected so far and shared with partner organizations, including The White House Project, Progressive Majority and the Minnesota Women’s Political Caucus.  While the data is used to help these programs improve their individual work, it also drives a learning community of all organizations in the state that are working in some capacity to increase the number and success of women candidates.

Collaboration between these organizations is up as a result.  And so is new programming that builds on the research results.  Five of the state’s most successful campaign programs have come together to design and carry-out a new 6 month, in-depth training program that takes advantage of each organization’s strengths.  Women candidates spend one full day with each organization – with Progressive Majority designing their campaign plan and assessing the political landscape in their district; with Wellstone Action developing their field operation; with The White House Project working on communication and telling their story; with womenwinning: the Minnesota Women’s Campaign Fund on fundraising and networking; and with the Center on Women and Public Policy on running as a woman.  A sixth day is shared and focuses on issues and interest group endorsements.  For more information see:  http://www2.hhh.umn.edu/forms/wpp_wcct2010.html

In addition to creating more effective women candidates, the new collaborative training responds to what the research is saying about increasing political ambition.  In general women potential candidates working with Progressive Majority rated the availability of support services (such as fundraising, targeting, individual guidance), as more important to their decision to run than men.  Organizers of the new training are betting that filling an important gap in support and bringing the various support organizations together in a one-stop training effort will help get more women to take the leap.

The research also reveals important differences among women.  Different aspects of the training triggered increases in political ambition among various subgroups.  For example, younger Go Run! participants (under 35) most frequently said that “running seems more real, more accessible.”  For women of color, creating a new norm, women like “me” run or lead, was the most common response.  White women most often felt that they had a greater understanding of the importance of women running.

A longitudinal look also shows that women are taking on new leadership roles and becoming more engaged in politics as a result of the trainings.  And many of them are targeting their political engagement around helping other women.  Around a quarter of the Minnesota Go Run! participants said that they had campaigned for or otherwise supported women candidates since and as a result of the training.  Increasing the number of women who are helping women candidates is important because the vast majority of participants from all demographics agreed or strongly agreed that support from women and others made them more likely to run. 

Will these changes in ambition levels and pipeline behaviors result in more women running?  Just completing its first year, the collaborative research project is designed to test over time the hypothesis that these changes ultimately lead to increased numbers of women running.


Lee Roper-Batker, president and CEO, Women’s Foundation of Minnesota

612-337-5010 | [email protected]

Liz Johnson, Midwest Regional Director, The White House Project

612-819-9898    [email protected]

Matt Filner, Minnesota State Director, Progressive Majority

612-332-9553  [email protected]

Debra Fitzpatrick, Associate Director, Center on Women and Public Policy

612-625-7176    [email protected]