“In today’s media environment, you would have to be crazy to run for office.”
That’s what one student told Shauna Shames, an assistant professor of political science at Rutgers University-Camden, during her study of more than 700 top grad students in law and public policy. Shames wanted to know whether Millennials are interested in becoming political candidates. She figured that if anyone would be interested in getting elected to government, it would be people at Harvard, one of the top feeder schools for national public service, or Suffolk University Law School, which sends a lot of its grads into state politics.
What she found is that elite young people—even those who are pursuing advanced degrees in law and policy—think running for office sounds terrible.
“You have to raise a lot of money to be viable,” one public-policy student told Shames. “You really have to bust your butt.” A lot of students talked about how corrupt politicians seem to become once they’re in office, Shames said, comparing running for office to “selling your soul.” As a young Harvard law student put it: “I’m a very results-oriented person, and I’d just rather not bother with a headache.”
Women were especially anxious about the potential risks of running. Part of this is might be a recognition of reality. As Shames writes, it’s a common assumption that as women and racial minorities win educational and professional opportunities, they’ll become a greater presence in government. “But this easy expectation … is belied by the numbers,” she writes. “Women are getting more education than men now, and have been for a while, but their numbers in elective office are stagnating.” And women of color are particularly underrepresented. “You do begin to at least understand why more women [than men] would look at [running] with clear eyes and say, ‘No, thank you,’” one female public-policy student said.