Something to Run for

Candidate Emergence in the Progressive Movement

By Meredith Conroy and Jon Green

Abstract: The 2018 elections have been marked by an increased interest among progressives of all stripes to become more involved in the political process -- including running for office. However, while there has been a great degree of speculation regarding the motivations for this new wave of candidates, opportunities for systematic inquiry have been rare.

In this report, we analyze over 10,000 intake forms collected by Run for Something between April of 2017 and July of 2018 to draw inferences regarding who is most likely to convert interest in running for office into an actionable candidacy, and how this interest in running for office is articulated.

We find that respondents who expressed interest in public service to Run for Something were more likely to become candidates if they were from underrepresented social groups, and if they articulated their interest in running for office in terms of specific issues they cared about or their local communities more generally.

Relatively few respondents mentioned President Trump or his administration when explaining why they were interested in running for office, and those who did were less likely to become candidates.

Key Findings

  • Representation matters: Women and people of color were more likely to express concerns regarding descriptive representation. White men were more likely to discuss partisan, establishment, or other general political dynamics that were not tied to their race or gender.

  • Closing the gap: Conditional on filling out a form, prospective candidates who were identifiable as non-white were more likely to run for office than their white counterparts.

  • Age matters more for women than men: Consistent with prior academic findings, young men were slightly more likely to run than young women, but the likelihood of running increased more for women as age increased than for men.

  • Rural candidates know they have a steep hill to climb: Rural prospective candidates were particularly likely to mention the political dynamics in their communities – especially how conservative they generally are – but those who did were also relatively more likely to run for office than those who did not.

  • Candidates talk about issues: Very few prospective candidates articulated their interest in running for office in terms of Trump, and those who did mention him (or the broader political climate) were less likely to run. Candidates were more likely to articulate their interest in specific terms, mentioning their communities’ needs, issues they care about (frequently education and health care), and the political dynamics of the districts in which they were considering running.

  • What prospective candidates say matters more than who they are: Modeling which prospective candidates became actual candidates shows that the information contained in the statements of interest vastly outperforms the demographic information in the rest of the forms.

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