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Who will fill 500,000 elected U.S. office positions?

WHO: Prof. Jennifer Lawless, director Women & Politics Institute available to discuss new research.

WHEN: November 25 - ongoing

Via telephone or in-studio (Nov. 26 - Dec. 1 New York; after Dec. 1 in Washington, DC)

In an op-ed titled "Turning off the next generation of politicians" appearing in Sunday’s Washington Post, American University’s School of Public Affairs Professor Jennifer Lawless asks what is the fate of American democracy if the best and brightest of future generations fail to consider running for elected office. The answer is sobering according to her recent research with Prof. Richard Fox (Loyola Marymount University). Trust and confidence in elected officials has lost its luster in the current dysfunctional political climate tarnishing future generations’ faith in the system and aspirations to be a part of it.

Prof. Lawless, who also serves as the director of American University's Women & Politics Institute, and Prof. Fox conducted a national survey of 4,200 college and high school students. The research was funded by the National Science Foundation. They conclude that unless today’s elected leaders start behaving more responsibly and civilly, there may be a deficit of interested, qualified people to fill the 500,000 elected office positions in the United States down the road. 


•  A mere 11 percent of respondents reported that they had any interest in pursuing elected office.

•  When students were asked whether they would prefer to be a business owner, teacher, salesperson, or mayor of a city or town, 9 out of ten respondents chose a career other than mayor as their first choice.  

•  When respondents were given a choice of becoming a business executive, lawyer, school principal or member of Congress, serving as a member of Congress came in dead last.  

•  High school and college students’ opinions of elected officials could not be much worse: 85 percent of respondents said elected officials don’t want to help people; 79 percent don’t consider politicians hard-working; and 60 percent view politicians as dishonest.

Clearly, the results show that young people do not hold elected officials in high esteem. In addition, those people whom youth look to for advice seem to share that view. Parents, teachers, and coaches are not steering young people to pursue elected office either. Three out of four survey respondents said they never received any type of encouragement to pursue politics or elected office from their parents. Only 12 percent were encouraged by a teacher, and just four percent by a coach.

Prof. Lawless is available to discuss the results of the survey and how the fault lies with the current dysfunctional political environment.

American University is a leader in global education, enrolling a diverse student body from throughout the United States and nearly 140 countries. Located in Washington, D.C., the university provides opportunities for academic excellence, public service, and internships in the nation’s capital and around the world.