Lack of Women Politicians Doomed Roe – Here’s How To Get Them Elected

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Women make up more than half of the U.S. population, yet less than a third of the nation’s elected leaders. It’s not because they’re not winning. It’s because they’re not running. And studies show that the gender gap in political ambition is just as big today as it was 20 years ago. Why, and how do we change that? Andy poses those questions to gender and politics researcher Jennifer Lawless and She Should Run founder Erin Loos Cutraro. Walk away from this interview with practical tips on how to run yourself or motivate your friend to turn that thought into an actual candidacy.

Keep up with Andy on Twitter @ASlavitt.

Follow Erin Loos Cutraro and Jennifer Lawless on Twitter @erinlooscutraro and @jenlawlessUVA.

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Jennifer Lawless, Andy Slavitt, Erin Loos Cutraro

Andy Slavitt  00:19

All right. Well, welcome to IN THE BUBBLE. Welcome to our Friday conversation. This is Andy Slavitt. I have two great guests today. Happy Friday, everybody helped the weekend is heading towards a good start, man, what a week. We’re gonna talk about what are the issues that if it’s not on your mind, it should be and will be soon. Amid all the primaries in the country, amid the news of the leaked brief on Roe v Wade last week. We’re going to discuss what’s at stake with the really significant gender gap that persists and Representative politics in the US with two people who know this topic better than anybody. And we’re going to talk about how actually to take some action and get involved or get the people you know, or care about who should be involved in politics involved in politics. And I’m really looking forward to this. Okay, Erin Loos Cutraro. You’re the founder, the CEO of She Should Run. I think the message is in the title, a nonprofit that encourages women to run for public office. Great to have you here.

Erin Loos Cutraro

Thanks. Yeah, we really nailed that the name of the organization, there’s no confusion. Well, not true, at times can be, but it’s great to be here. Thank you.

Andy Slavitt 

Great. Thank you. Jennifer Lawless, is a professor of politics at University of Virginia. Welcome, Jennifer/

Jennifer Lawless 

Thank you for having me.

Andy Slavitt

Boy, what a couple of weeks. Oh, man. Erin, I just want to start maybe with you, because you wrote an article in Fortune, about the connection between the Supreme Court’s leaked draft opinion in the lack of female representation in US politics? Can you explain it?

Erin Loos Cutraro

Sure. So look, it’s really clear that as we face challenging moments, this one in particular, where you have a potential policy and law, that already affects 51% of the population in this country, and our representation in the rooms where conversations are made, where reflections are being made, you know, in the past of who may or may not have believed whatever they may have believed, didn’t fully represent women, didn’t fully represent the great diversity of our country and the great diversity and perspective from women. And then we come to these crisis moments where you realize just how challenging it can be to not have your voice represented when in big changes and big policies.

Andy Slavitt  02:50

Right. Jennifer, I just saw a poll this morning. That says that, that 58% of voters said that it will be important to them in the midterms to support a candidate who supports abortion access. That was and that includes, interestingly enough 82% of Democratic voters 57% of independents and 35% of Republicans, which I found interesting. How big a factor do you think that the Mississippi case that will overturn Roe will have on the election and women getting involved in politics directly?

Jennifer Lawless  03:29

Well, I think as far as voters are concerned, we know that it will mobilize pro-choice voters. The problem, of course, is the electoral map. And the fact that these pro-choice voters and the 58% of the population that supports Roe vs. Wade does not live in ruby red districts. And they’re not living in the kinds of places where there’s an opportunity to knock out somebody who’s demonstrated and ardently anti-choice agenda. They already live in the places for the most part, where elected officials support abortion rights and reproductive freedom. And so it’s a challenge on that front. But I think that speaks to the importance of identifying good candidates. And in a lot of ways, we’re too late for 2022 already, but it’s not too late for 2024. And this is an opportunity for people to think about whether they themselves would be good candidates, whether they know people who could potentially run for office who would support their agenda and who would support the fundamental rights and freedoms that women have come to rely on for the last 50 years. This is just totally shocking, and that it’s the first time that the Supreme Court is really on such an important social policy issue, going to restrict people’s rights. And they’re restricting them systematically and that anybody who was woman is affected. So if this isn’t going to be enough to mobilize voters and potential candidates, then it’s hard to imagine what is.

Andy Slavitt  04:52

So would you say it’s too late for 2022? Meaning it’s too late to throw your hat in if you hadn’t already been planning on it.

Jennifer Lawless 

That’s right, but it’s certainly not Too late to cast a very important vote. And you know, in a lot of races, you’re gonna have two anti-choice candidates vying against one another. But they don’t necessarily support the same degree of restriction, they don’t necessarily support the same opposition to the general rule framework. And so this is an opportunity, I think, even for people who are living in places where voting for a pro-choice candidate is not going to be an option to still demonstrate that they care about this issue, and that they can make a more nuanced decision based on the candidates records.

Andy Slavitt 

You know, it felt for a time like we were making progress in increasing representation, both of women and people of color in politics. Yet, when I look at some of the research that you both put out, and Jennifer, I’m looking thinking about some really interesting research you put out recently kind of told me that as much as we’ve made gains in the number of women in office, that the underlying sentiment about whether or not a woman feels like she wants to run for office, whether that’s an appealing course for her hasn’t really changed that much. Can you explain that a bit?

Jennifer Lawless  06:16

Yeah, it’s pretty stunning. So in 2001, Richard Fox, and I conducted a national survey of potential candidates. So these are lawyers, business leaders, educators, political activists, the kinds of people that are most likely to run for office, whether it be at the state level, or Congress. And at the times, this is 20 years ago, we found that even though these women and men look the same on paper, they have the same professional backgrounds, the same political interest, same professional credentials, you know, women were about a third less likely than men to express any interest in running for office, the gender gap was 16 percentage points. Fast forward to 2011. We do the study again. And at this point, there had been some pretty big changes, Nancy Pelosi had become Speaker of the House. On the Republican side, Sarah Palin had been a vice presidential candidate, the gender gap in ambition was exactly 16 percentage points again. And then in November and December of 2021, we conducted a new study. So this is now 20 years after that first study, we’ve had Hillary Clinton, we’ve had Kamala Harris, we’ve had Nancy Pelosi, again, as speaker, the number of women in Congress doubled from the time that we first conducted our study in 2001. And the gender gap and political ambition was roughly the same size of anything, and had actually grown a little bit. And so what that shows me and I think a lot of people out there is that we can target specific women to run for office. And in fact, that’s how we’ve seen the increase in the number of women in Congress. And when you cultivate relationships with them, and you encourage them to run, they’ll run. But we’re not fundamentally changing people’s attitudes about the political system and whether it seems hospitable to them. And that seems fundamentally problematic in a society where women are half the population.

Andy Slavitt 

What is it that makes it less attractive for women to run a run for office? Is it some of the same things that are biases that seep through in all workplaces? Are there specific things, you know, I read some of the things you put together around what the experience is like, for a woman versus a man running for office. And some of this stuff just was really kind of highly concerning, to say the least.

Jennifer Lawless  08:23

Yeah, it’s not good. So I mean, the good news is that when women do run, they’re just as likely as men to win, they’re just as able to raise money, media coverage has gotten to the point where it’s pretty equitable in terms of volume and substance. So that’s the good news, once you can convince a woman to throw her hat into the ring, she’s got just as good a shot as men. And that’s largely because these great organizations out there that have trained women to run and to run effectively. The problems, though, are that women are less likely to be encouraged to run in the first place. And I’m not only talking about by party leaders and elected officials, that’s true. But even their family members, colleagues and friends are less likely to suggest to them that they should run. And women are less likely than men, even when they have the same qualifications to think that they’re qualified. And in part, that’s because they perceive a biased electoral arena. So it’s great that voters are willing to vote for women and donors are willing to give to women. But that’s not the perception out there. And as a result, women think they have to be three times as good to get a third as far right. And you know, it’s a rational response to what they perceive to be a biased electoral arena. And I think the irony here is that everyone thinks that the political arena is so much more biased than a law firm or corporate America. But in fact, it’s not largely because of partisanship. Right? Like you can be a card-carrying sexist, but still vote for a woman in your party, because it’s more unattractive to cross party lines these days.

Andy Slavitt 

I see. Interesting. Yeah, I was struck by this, that 75% of men believe that they’re either qualified or well qualified to run for office. And I hate to say it like if you get on an airplane or a bus or go to a stadium and say the three the other four guys you’re looking at think they’re qualified to run for office. That’s a little, that’s a little bit disturbing. Maybe I don’t go to all the right places.

Erin Loos Cutraro  10:06

It’s true, though, you know, look, the work of She Should Run is really focused on that woman who’s not there yet. And so we often are working with women in our community, who, you know, they’re looking at, they want that peek behind the curtain, they’re not ready to commit yet. And, you know, what we see is all of what Jennifer has explained, huge, huge concerns around whether or not they are the right person, do they have what it takes, somebody else must know this better, they’re the better insider, because, you know, the woman wants to work behind the scenes, and, you know, people are pushing her and so she’s trying to figure out whether or not there’s a path for her there. And I think the other thing that, you know, we didn’t name that, that’s very real today, and shows up across the board is just the toxic nature of politics. You know, women are citing more and more and more the stress and, and, frankly, potential violence that exists when across the board women are facing issues that men are facing when they’re putting themselves out there. And you know there’s a lot at stake when you’re thinking about how to have all the balls in the air, maybe you’re working a job, maybe you’re going to you want to do well by your community, you’re you want to run for office, but do you want to put up with the crap that is associated with it. And I know a lot of women will tag out before they even step in and take a look behind the curtain because they say No way.

Jennifer Lawless 

Although, you know, it’s interesting, because a lot of men feel just as negatively about it. And as a result, we’re losing a huge crop of really qualified candidates on both, you know, both men and women on both sides of the aisle, because you look at this political environment, and you have to wonder who’s willing to withstand what could potentially be involved. And it used to be the case that I would say to people, well, that might be the case at the congressional level, or in a really, really competitive state legislative race. Now, if you’re running for a local office that most people have never even heard of. That doesn’t mean that you’re protected from this, because so much is happening at the local level, whether we’re talking about book banning, or we’re talking about, you know, mask mandates and what’s going on in schools, critical race theory, or now what’s ultimately going to be zoning ordinances around Planned Parenthood. And you know, these are the kinds of things that are just not attractive to anybody that feels like they could make a difference in a less toxic way.

Andy Slavitt  12:27

Yeah, it’s an ugly arena, for sure. But I think about conversations I’ve had with Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar, and things that they take for granted, that at this point, they’re like, in the everybody feels like they’ve got a right to comment on my appearance to the tenth degree. And so as a result, you know, I’m getting up two hours earlier than my male counterparts. Because every hair that’s out of place, there’s going to be a story about it. And it’s incredibly unpleasant. And I don’t see that with men. I don’t see this the same sets of issues, haunting them, the personal issues, let alone the family issues, and those kinds of attacks that people think they’ve got the right to get away with.

Jennifer Lawless 

Well,  interesting. Danny Hayes and I wrote a book about congressional elections and media coverage. And we looked at the midterm elections in 2010, and 2014. And we actually look, newspaper coverage is the main way that people get information about what’s going on, and congressional races and house races. And so we coded every newspaper article from the largest paper in that congressional district. So 435 congressional districts are two different points in time. And we track the total number of articles that mentioned to candidates, parents, whether it was a positive or negative mention, and you know, what sort of what the content was. And we found that about 95% of men and 94% of women received no appearance coverage whatsoever. And so I think part of the reason that it stands out is in these very, very high-profile cases, like if you’re running for president, or maybe if you’re in a competitive senate race, where you get more coverage in general, that’s where it’s going to emerge, in most house races, it doesn’t. And what we did find is that in the 5% or 6% of cases where women and men did get coverage, it was pretty descriptive. You know, so there were examples of Tammy Duckworth and the fact that she had lost limbs in Iraq. And so that’s describing her physical appearance. There were examples of a group of male members of Congress who went skinny dipping in the Dead Sea, we coded that as appearance coverage, because now we’re all thinking about them skinny dipping in the Dead Sea.

Andy Slavitt  14:32

Thanks for that image.

Jennifer Lawless 

But, you know, I think that the good news is that, although it’s certainly horrible that the highest profile Women have to endure this, that it’s really not trickling down because you’ve got such limited coverage in other races, that there just isn’t room for it. You know, maybe if we had an unlimited opportunity, we would seize on that too. And so something that I think is important to communicate to candidates is that Maybe if there was an unlimited amount of time your appearance really would be scrutinized. The good news is, there are a fixed number of column inches. And so, you know, probably it won’t be

Andy Slavitt 

As you say, when they run, they win. So that maybe the perception is that it’s gonna be worse than it is. Is that right, Erin?

Erin Loos Cutraro 

Yeah, look, I think that there, there is a component there the perception is, is very scary, the unknowns are scary. But I also don’t want to discount the personal experiences that women do have on the campaign trail, that are very different from men. So it may not be showing up in that press, you know, that press sweep for us to be able to look at and, and, and, you know, see as clearly, but there’s no doubt that women are experiencing questions about how they’re showing up to debates differently than men are, they are, you know, the research is super-duper clear that women are held to a higher standard than men. So, you know, to your point, Andy about, you know, just what goes into that and thinking about, you know, what, what you’re going to wear and how you’re going to show up, you know, that voters are going to push hard, you know, that voters expect, you know, close to perfection from you, and whether or not you know, the line is maybe blurry for some between is it perception or is it real experience, but, but the reality is, it’s there, it’s part of our system, our system is, you know, built for and by men, and that’s what you see. And so voters are sort of looking for a certain standard, and there’s still real challenge for women when it comes to it.

Jennifer Lawless  16:25

And what I would add, though, is that the perception that that is what voters are looking for, affects who ultimately runs for office. And so in a lot of ways, the research actually can’t be as clear as it would need to be as to whether women are held to a higher standard, because the women who emerge are of a higher standard. And so, you know, they’re faring as well as men. And so maybe they should be faring better as men, but maybe a win is a win. Right? And so in a lot of ways, we’re actually limited in exploring this question, because so many women are self-selecting out, because they don’t think that they’re perfect.

Andy Slavitt 

Right. So in other words, the better woman is beating the mediocre man. We started by talking about Roe. And I want to just make sure that I say this, because, you know, we’re talking about here is representation. And there are plenty of women on the Republican side, who might also feel the same way. And of course, women are not monolithic in their beliefs, right, whether Democrat, there’s plenty of women that are not pro-choice, there’s plenty of women that are Republican. And there’s a lot of other factors in people’s lives including race, family socioeconomic status that are relevant here. So I don’t want to just cast this as an issue that is only one that affects Democrats, are there differences, that we should be paying attention to how this affects different populations?

Jennifer Lawless  18:18

Well, so I’d say two things. The first is the gender gap and political ambition is roughly the same size among Democrats and Republicans. And so the Democrats have a little bit of an edge in this where the gap is slightly smaller, but it’s still very, very substantial. And so if you are a person who believes that whether you’re a conservative or a Liberal or Democrat or Republican, you should have an opportunity at some point in your life to cast a ballot for somebody who looks like you. This is a problem across the board, when we’re talking about substance and whether you’re going to be substantively represented there, whether there’s a D, or an R in front of a candidate’s name is way more important than the presence or absence of a white chromosome. And so I think that’s where we have to begin to think about how we communicate the importance of electing more women or more people of color, or, you know, people from lots of different backgrounds, there are these clear descriptive benefits, and symbolically it matters and it can often be mobilizing, but that doesn’t, that’s not sufficient to tell us whether, you know, people are going to represent other people on the issues.

Erin Loos Cutraro 

Yeah. And I, you know, I add to that, because I think a point that is really important is that we know when you add more women to elected office that the policies change, and while women are not a monolith, and you can’t say you know, one plus two equals three, it’s not as simple as we want it to be. There still is and I think most people if you step back, it makes a ton of sense that women bring a unique voice and experience to the table. Yes, party matters. And yes, if we’re going to talk about the highest-level office, the D and R matters, you know, It’s the most important factor. But you get all the way down there over 500,000 elected offices in this country. And I think what we’ve done, we’re doing a disservice to our democracy, because we’re trying to simplify things to, you know, to make it sound like, you know, there’s a camp to be in always. And sure there is for certain offices, but the majority of offices, those offices that are making decisions for the things that are often happening in your backyard, you want to make sure there is a variety of perspective there. So party matters that I don’t, I would argue that it does not matter as much as you go down ticket.

Andy Slavitt  20:37

What you’re saying it’s like, it’s almost like lived experience, someone who’s been elected, knows what my life is like. And therefore when they’re in the room, they’re, they’re more likely to take into account things that matter to me. You know, I mean, I got a tiny microcosm of this and, you know, in the White House in that Joe Biden knows what union membership is like, you’re going to talk to Joe about unions. This is an area where he’s going to perk up. When we talked to Vice President Harris, about who’s getting vaccinated and how the vaccination programs going. She wanted to know and made sure that we could tell her what are the equity issues and how we’re reaching different people in different communities? Because she’s been there. And I just think that part of what I hearing from both of you, is that you that I think you said it, when we said, Jennifer, that like, you should all have a chance to vote for somebody, at some point in time, that looks like them. And in many respects, it’s like, they know whatever the particular pain, particular opportunity, particular elements of the things that matter to us in our lives are there, that they’re there to vote for us, just like business people have had we titled Trump.

Jennifer Lawless 

That’s right. And if we are continuing to only see middle aged and older White men on the ballot, that’s the problem. And although we’ve seen an increase..

Andy Slavitt  22:01

And middle ages generous, middle age, it’s good to be generous here.

Jennifer Lawless 

You know, and although we’ve seen an increase, and we’ve seen more diversity, especially on the Democratic side of the aisle among candidates, we’re still far from being in a place where it’s a given. And that diversity that we are seeing is because of Herculean efforts made on behalf of groups that really care about diversifying our elected officials, you know, and so I think that if we were to just say, okay, mission accomplished, we would see quite a bit of slippage, and there would be quite a bit of falling back. And on the Republican side of the aisle, you know, it’s better than it was a couple of election cycles ago. But we’re still talking about, you know, a Republican conference, that’s 85% male, and that seems to be a problem.

Andy Slavitt 

Not to mention White. You know, it. It feels like, we have this conundrum that you’re explaining, which is that we get policies, which don’t represent the people of this country, in part you pointed out because the electoral map, which is another point, but even if you put that aside, because we elect people that don’t look like the population, that’s right, but that the same phenomenon that that has caused, causing that is also discouraging, underrepresented groups, women, among that probably others as well, from wanting to seek office. And so it’s sort of self-reinforcing problem.

Jennifer Lawless 

And I think that that’s the big challenge. And that’s why when I look at the research that Richard and I have conducted, where we say that this gender gap and political ambition hasn’t changed over time, we know that this is not just about making sure that at the highest levels of office, it looks better to people out there who might have otherwise felt underrepresented. That’s not enough. It’s not enough for them to feel like they have real buy in to the system. And that becomes the challenge. Because how do you encourage more people to run for office when they look around, and they don’t see the people that look like them, they don’t see people with similar experiences. And I should note, too, that the research that we did, initially, we focused on these four paths to politics that are the most the careers that are most likely to lead to political office, we also thought, well, maybe we should think about a much broader candidate eligibility pool, maybe what we should be doing is going out there to recruit people who don’t look like the traditional candidate. So we also did national surveys of 1000s of people. And the only requirements that we had for them were that they were employed and had a college degree. So now we’re talking about a much, much broader group. And the gender gap and political ambition was exactly the same size. So this isn’t just a matter of we see these gaps when we replicate what we’ve already got. We see these gaps among the people who really could be well recruited.

Andy Slavitt  24:58

So you say that even when you broaden the circle, you still see the same kinds of issues showing up?

Jennifer Lawless 

Exactly. The reasons are the same. It’s this sense of, you know, not being qualified, it’s receiving less support. And it doesn’t matter what profession you’re coming from.

Erin Loos Cutraro 

Yeah. And look, I think She Should Run has an interesting vantage point on this, because we’re, you know, we’re really focused on those women who aren’t there yet. And because we watch, of course, very closely, where the effort in the field is going, I think we’re at a point right now where this missed opportunity that that exists in really focusing on the long game, how do we change? How do we close that gender gap that, you know that that Jennifer’s research so clearly lays out, it requires us to not just be focused on what’s happening on the ballot right now, if you look at the way I mean, follow the money on this, if you look at the way that money flows into efforts to close the gap on women’s representation, 99% of the money is going to the end game, and we think we’re doing enough as a field, it’s going to support the women who are already on the ballot, obviously, we need to keep doing that, in no way shape or form, do can we pull that back. But the work that is happening, you know, she should run is a under $2 million operation, we need to be a $50 million operation and employing you know, our strategy is that we know are working at such a greater scale. But investors in the space are so fixated on the what’s happening right here, and now that they can’t think long game. And then we find ourselves in situations where, you know, we have a policy crisis, or, you know, we’re trying to pull our way out of an economic crisis and women aren’t at the table.

Andy Slavitt  26:52

It’s interesting, there’s this sort of superficial sense that I think people have, if they don’t think about the issue to the extent that you guys have talked about that this is less of a problem, because they look and they see, you know, from the left AOC to the right MTG I can’t say full name. And then you know, Liz Cheney and the Senate right and Nancy Pelosi and that the I guess you’d call it the center left, below these, these labels. So there’s so changing all the time that they because you’ve got these sort of very prominent women who and it was wasn’t the case 20-25 years ago, that have reached those heights and the Vice President and we’ve had a woman running for president. But what’s interesting is that you’re saying is that underlying these sorts of headlines, we have the same problem that we had decades ago.

Jennifer Lawless 

Right. Women still don’t feel like the political system is open to them as candidates. Now that’s not to say that when they’re recruited, they can’t see it. And it’s not to suggest that when people impress upon them, that they really are qualified, and that they really would make great candidates. They don’t believe it, they do. But they’re still requiring the same kind of push and the same kind of convincing that was required 20 years ago. And something seems strange about that, given that there’s 20 years of successes that don’t seem to have done anything to chip away at that.

Erin Loos Cutraro  28:19

Yeah. And look, it’s what’s super fascinating to me, too, is, you know, we’ve learned so much and in the messages that work and the messages that don’t work, here’s what doesn’t work, a blanket message about representation, a lack of representation, just being like hit over the head with, there’s not enough women, there’s not enough women that doesn’t move women at you know, edit at a fast pace to sign up to run for office, we have to get really smart and targeted with our messaging, not treat women as a monolith. Think about underrepresented populations. You know, think about what’s gonna move a woman with one type of background versus a woman with another type of background, we have the ability to be sophisticated like that, but it takes real investment and it takes real, you know, real power in that long game work that doesn’t exist right now.

Jennifer Lawless 

And the other thing that’s really fascinating to me is that literally hundreds of 1000s of these local offices are uncontested. So you could get women to run for these positions. And it doesn’t matter if they don’t like the rigors of a campaign. They won’t have to run one.

Andy Slavitt 

There’s a good there’s a good motivation for you right there, let’s go win. The other thing it’s like, is Erin, stuff like this, around the world. Talk a little bit about where the US ranks in representation from women relative to other parts of the world.

Erin Loos Cutraro

Yeah, absolutely. So look, I mean, the World Economic Forum right now, because of the pandemic you know, when they released their global gender report, they noted that that we are on a path to you know, for it to take Over 100 I think it was 130 something years for us to reach true representation. The US is not moving up in representation were behind so many countries when we should be the country leader? We’re 75th or 76th?

Jennifer Lawless  30:21

And if I could just know, when we started doing this research in 2001, we were 57th. And that was bad. But over the last 20 years, you know, almost two dozen other nations have advanced at a faster rate than we have.

Erin Loos Cutraro 

And look, with it, you know, I think it was a vice president Harris, who said, you know, the status of women is the status of democracy. It is absolutely the case. We know that unless we have full representation of women 51% of the population, you know, in its true diversity across the board, that we’re missing out. And yet we can’t we for whatever reason, you know, our conversation as a country today is about how we can take some women’s rights away. That’s where we are. It is a crisis

Andy Slavitt 

That suggests that there’s a cultural thing here in the US or something about our elections, which doesn’t exist in so much of the world. Is that the case?

Jennifer Lawless 

So there are two features that we don’t have that many of the nations that surpass us do. So the first are gender quotas. Now, we don’t need them in this country. Ironically, because quotas are a solution to a problem, a demand problem, not a supply problem, right? When voters aren’t willing to vote for women, you have to have a certain number of them elected. And that is a way to sort of convince the electorate that you can diversify your elected officials and life will still be okay. Our voters are willing to vote for women. So quotas wouldn’t solve the problem here. And they fly in the face of our political culture. But several of the nations that surpass us have them. The other thing is that the nations that are ahead of us tend to have really strong party systems. We talk a lot about partisanship, but our parties are generally weak, anybody who wants to run for office can run, which means that you have to be really, really entrepreneurial, the party organization itself rarely gets involved in primaries unless of the most competitive ones. And as a result, it’s an it’s based on the selection of the potential candidates themselves decided to throw their hats into the ring. And then these other countries, you have strong parties that go out and come up with a list of candidates. And so by definition, they’re recruiting. And when you have one party that says, oh, we’re going to recruit a lot of women, or we’re going to recruit a lot of people of color, every other party that has incentives to do the same, because they don’t want to be the party that’s giving away a series of seats to voters who feel that that matters. And we just that’s just not the case here. And so as long as we have this really entrepreneurial candidate emergence process, we’re in a situation where recruitment from outside organizations becomes that much more important.

Andy Slavitt 

Acknowledging the fact that, of course, women aren’t monolithic in the in the issues that they care about. I do want to talk about just for a second, you know, to give some examples of issues that are underrepresented, that don’t get the fair shake, because there’s not people in the room and people at the table to talk about them. And I’ll just throw some of them out there. And just tell me if you think that these are ones that obviously choice, we just had a vote this week, that voted down trying to protect the federal right to an abortion. Both Murkowski and Collins voted against it. They weren’t the deciding votes, but they were they were two of the votes. But we also have issues like paid family medical leave, which we have parts of the world which allow women to enter the economy, and have a much more of a fair shot at the economy. The Child Tax Credit, which was in one of our pieces of legislation, which takes which reduces childhood poverty by 50%, health care and health care access. You know, am I wrong? Are these issues that we would be making much different types of progress on if women were in 51% of the population if they were 51% of elected officials?

Jennifer Lawless  34:46

So I think those are the right issues. We know that women are more likely to focus on issues that have to do with women, families and children. Now, as polarization has gotten out of control, and as it’s gotten to the point where, especially at the federal level, you can count on one hand, the number of times that people cross party lines, I think the composition of who those 51 senators would be who would be women would matter. You know, it’s not to say that if you’re a female Republicans, you’re going to all of a sudden support the right to choose and, you know, kind of making sure that Obamacare becomes even stronger, or, you know, ensuring paid family leave. But we do know that on both sides of the aisle, women are more likely than men to prioritize those issues. And so it might be the case that women on both sides of the aisle don’t necessarily agree on what the solution would be. But they’re going to be far more likely than similarly situated men to make sure that the conversation has had and that they’re on the agenda.

Andy Slavitt 

Makes sense. Makes sense. Erin, you’re nodding your head.

Erin Loos Cutraro

I’m nodding my head, because it’s just it to me, it is also just really eye opening and these conversations always around issues, that the issues that we name, you know, the economic issues, the healthcare issues, these things that are where women’s voices are not represented. They’re also, you know, issues that have effects disproportionately on women, specifically women of color. And so, you know, it, it does feel a little endless sometimes, but there is an answer, you know, you said there’s a way out there is a way out, we have to stay focused on who’s not in the room and how we get them in the room, and push for the change that we want to see now, but still believe that, you know that the work that we’re doing today that we may not see the result of for 5 or 10 years still matters.

Jennifer Lawless  36:36

And I think it’s really important to caution against the idea that we just need to be patient and things will get fixed by themselves. Not only do we have 20 years of data to suggest that that’s not the case. But we’ve also done national surveys of college students, and the gender gap and political ambition among 18- to 25-year-olds is at least as big as it is among these potential candidates. So this is not a situation where in 15 years, all of a sudden, all of these women are going to emerge as candidates, we just had to wait for them, we have to be far more proactive to encourage them.

Andy Slavitt 

So that I think the best part of our Friday conversations shows needs to be what we got to talk about next, which is how do we fix it? And the most optimistic thing I heard you say, and you both agreed with this, is it when women run, first of all, they’re by definition, they’re more qualified than the average man, because every man who runs thinks they’re more qualified than they are. So by the way, if you did tell me that if I’m in the election booth, and I see a man’s name and a woman’s name, and I don’t know, either one party aside, I might just vote for the woman, knowing that what it took her to get on the ballot and decide to run, she’s not qualified. It’s not a bad way to think about it. But it’s also interesting that the public, when they see a qualified woman running will elect her. And that is something we should be very encouraged about, I bet that wasn’t always the case. So that means we got to go, there a couple of places, we got to point out if we want to solve this, and I really want to turn the conversation to those things. How do we make the environment more hospitable so that more women want to run? What could we do about that?

Erin Loos Cutraro  38:20

I mean, we have to encourage and Jennifer said it before, we have to create the spaces where you’re connecting the dots between the things that women care about, we know that women want to, and I’m sure this is not false for men, but we know a motivator for women is that they want to, you know, leave a legacy, they want to leave a mark something that makes the world better, if not for, you know, the next generation, if they’re not thinking within their household, they’re thinking about their community, they’re thinking about, you know, they’re thinking about their states, and we have to show up in the places where they are because they’re not going to seek their own path to elected office at the rate that we need them to. So if that is, you know, normalizing a conversation around political ambition connecting those dots between what they can accomplish on the issues that they care about, you know, both through, you know, volunteering for something, but hey, how does that connect to who your representative is your local representative is, you have to connect those dots you have to, in many ways we talked about was like the surprise efforts very targeted, you know, you have to go into the places where women already are and present the opportunity because it is an opportunity to change something for the better.

Jennifer Lawless 

And I think building off of that, we need to make a stronger case about the things that only elected officials can do. Because so many women are active and want to be involved and say they want to work behind the scenes or they want to work in the nonprofit sector. They can do this through board activism. And the reality is that you can do a lot that way, but you can’t do everything that way. And they need a seat at the table where they’re actually casting votes, whether it be in a committee or on a house floor or wherever.

Andy Slavitt 

Well, let’s look at some of the unpleasant parts about running having to raise money. All those things is there any evidence suggests that women can’t be as successful and aren’t as successful with that,

Jennifer Lawless  40:09

And let me just say, I ran for Congress in 2006, I ran the Democratic primary against an incumbent, largely because of the right to choose, he was an anti-choice incumbent. And I remember at the beginning, thinking that raising money was the most horrible thing in the world, and that I would just be so compelling that people would write checks, and then come to the office. And that’s how I would be able to, you know, get on TV, that was a time where there were still checks, and there were offices. Anyway, it didn’t happen, like no candidate is sufficiently compelling. And once I realized that I had to spend 35 hours a week on the phone, calling people I’ve never met and asking them for more money than they were comfortable giving. And I got comfortable with that. I did it and you know how long it takes to get comfortable, it takes about two days of just sitting there with somebody requiring that you do that. So I had this finance director who would sit there and dial the phone number for me and hand me the phone. And we did it over and over again. And it just became old hat. And it turned out that people say yes, people you’ve never met will give you 1000s of dollars, if you’re calling the right people. And so I think we have to also sort of deploy both successful and unsuccessful candidates who were pleasantly surprised with how well the campaign went, often, we hear these horror stories about what happens when women run for office, I think we need to start spotlighting some of the amazing things that can happen and some of the growth that can happen, even if it doesn’t go your way. And that’s something that I know a lot of organizations will do within their trainings themselves. But I don’t know that we’re casting a wide enough net to send out that message to a broader community.

Andy Slavitt 

Yeah, I will say that, like, I’ve learned a lot from watching my wife, Lana, who is really, really good at both raising money and knocking on doors. And she’s turned it into a joy and a passion, talking to people educating them asking for money. But I guess my question, and maybe it’s a question for you, Jennifer is one of the things that Lana likes to ask people when they’re running for office is the first question she asked him, if you lose, will you run again? And if people say No, she’ll say, Why should I support you? Because this is going to take work, and it’s going to be there’s going to be setbacks. But you know, that takes dealing with rejection, I know that if I ran for office, and I lost, I would probably crawl under my desk, and hide because I feel like I got rejected. So I’m not going to talk out of both sides of my mouth.

Jennifer Lawless  42:28

I mean, I’m not gonna lie election night wasn’t so fun. You know, making that concession call doesn’t go down as like the top 10 moments of my life, right? But, you know, I’d say a couple of things. First, people would ask that question. And my answer was always first, I don’t expect to lose. But second, sure, like, if you care enough about it, yes, run again. And I hope at some point, I do run again. But the other thing that I would say that I think is really, really key here is that all of the things that seem like they would be so terrible, when you’re actually doing them are just part of the job. And they’re not so terrible. And the one final thought that I have on this sort of rigors of a campaign issue is that when a campaign gets really, really competitive, the things that you thought might have been appalling, are actually kind of appealing. And so I remember my opponent ran a negative ad against me and my face was on the screen, and it was all morphed and distorted. And he said, Jennifer Lawless distorts the truth and basically called me a liar to, you know, the entire population of Rhode Island, it was the best day of the campaign for me, because if he was going to spend, you know, several $100,000, trying to take me down, that means that they had an internal poll where they were a little bit worried. And if you would have told me that ahead of time, I would have thought, Oh, that’s terrible. But when you’re actually in it, and you’re experiencing what’s going on, you have a completely different perception and you have become a different person and not a worse person and not a phony person. It’s just that you become a candidate and becoming a candidate is what we have to encourage women to do.

Erin Loos Cutraro 

Oh, I love that you’re saying that so much. And by the way, I have found that the most compelling case makers to get women into the process are women who have run and loss and are willing to talk about it because there’s not a there’s not a script of you know, the points that you feel like you’re supposed to hit your real about it. And many women and I think Jennifer’s right, like usually not on election night fair enough. But in reflection after will say, you know, I’m a better person because of this I’m better connected to my community those calls maybe they weren’t fun by the way that it’s that’s an that there’s no there’s likely not a gender gap there. I don’t know that it’s great joy all the time for any candidate to do that. But what you are doing is you’re making personal connection after personal connection and you’re hearing what people care about and hopefully that’s why you’re at the table is to represent constituents and to, you know, to bring a perspective that isn’t already there. So that energy that you’re getting and that network building that you’re getting is unmatched for you to go do anything else. So yeah, go be a candidate.

Andy Slavitt 

Yeah, losing is part of the process. There’s no candidate who is at any office for any amount of time or bulk losses that hasn’t lost or that doesn’t, doesn’t play with that. It’s just like you don’t win your whatever job we have. Everything doesn’t go well every day. And so you have to put the losing in that context, let’s, let’s quickly see if there are other things that we can and should be doing. You talk about encouraging and recruiting. We talked about that a little bit, who are the most important recruiters, for of women candidates who are most effective at doing it.

Jennifer Lawless 

So to get them to think about it in the first place, it’s their family members, colleagues and friends, to get them to turn that thought into an actual candidacy. It’s political activists, elected officials and party leaders. And so what I always say to people is if you know a woman that you think would make an excellent candidate, talk to her and make sure she knows. And if you can actually then introduce her to somebody that is already political, or could help cultivate a campaign that’s terrific, or point her in the direction of an organization that’s focused on this.

Andy Slavitt  46:01

Let’s just say 500,000. offices open. So I take that action item for me leaving the show. There are plenty of offices open to plenty of promising women that I know, just telling them, I think what I heard you say just telling them, you would be great, you would qualify. I have seen people in office, you are better than most of them. You should run.

Jennifer Lawless 

And that’s literally all you need to say. Right? And then if they say no, no, no, you have to follow up and say no, seriously, I mean it because we also have some evidence to suggest that when women are recruited, they’re less likely than men to perceive that they’ve been recruited, or perhaps men are more likely to perceive that they’ve been recruited when they actually have. But you know, just make sure it resonates. And if it resonates, there’s nothing to suggest in the literature or in the research, that women are less likely to then turn that interest into a candidacy, we just need to make sure it shows up on their radar screen in the first place.

Erin Loos Cutraro 

And it’s not and it’s not and this is the part where I feel like so often people feel helpless in this. They know they care; they want to see more women in office, they want to see more to represent government. And they say, Well, what can I do, I don’t have the big dollars, look around, look around you and start making the those asks, start encouraging, encouraging women to see themselves in those roles, tell them that they you know, there’s somebody that you want to you want to go for it, it makes a huge difference.

Andy Slavitt 

Then maybe just give me a gift for the audience. If people are thinking about it, some practical ways to think about how to start like, how do they research, what offices might be open? How do they research, getting a campaign manager beginning fundraising? Are there some places you can point people that are good starting points?

Jennifer Lawless 

This is […]. But let me just say that before she gives the practical advice, the thing that I think is most important is figure out where your passion is because that’s the office you should be running for. It’s not the case that you have to start at the local level, and then run for state office and then ultimately run for Congress. If you are really passionate about federal issues, then you should be focusing on a federal campaign. If you’re really interested in what’s going on in your community, then you should be focusing on local office. I think too often people think that no, no, no, it’s out of reach. I have to start somewhere else. You’re not as compelling when you’re not passionate.

Erin Loos Cutraro  48:21

Yeah. 100%. And I would say, Look, that’s why. So a shameless plug for She Should Run that is what we do. We are a starting point for women who are thinking about running for office for the first time and telling, because our, you know, we’re very data driven and what resources we serve up is that women aren’t coming to us. I mean, sometimes they are and we push them on to other organizations that do it, but they’re not coming to us to ask for the tactical skills are coming to us saying like, Where do I even get started and our resources start in a place of finding your why connecting your purpose to the offices that matter, because at the end of the day, what’s gonna get you out of bed every day is that fire you have in the belly. So you want to be able to name that and like Jennifer said, you know, connect those dots and then and then your path is clear the rest of his tactical, we can figure that part out. But you want to be in it for the right reason, so that you can show up every day for it.

Jennifer Lawless

And in terms of the logistics, most states, if you go to the Secretary of State’s website, if you go to the Board of Elections website, they’ve become way more user friendly over time where there are very clear links, how do I become a candidate what paperwork do I have to file? That’s relatively easy. The issue is figuring out that you want to get there in the first place. So we

Andy Slavitt 

So we have a link to She Should Run in the show notes please check it out. I think it gives you plenty to explore. And then I know that in some states they have a boot camps for people who raise their hand and say they want to run after the run by the different political party so there’s probably one on the Republican side one of the Democratic side I guessing that they look different in each state but you know, finding that There’s out there, there tend to be people who have run before, who will take people through that process. And I could emphasize enough, one of the things you said, Jennifer, it’s not as scary. And it’s not as bad as it seems. Once you started, once you get into it, it’s like every other job, there’s some parts of it that you don’t like, and some parts of it that you do like, but I will say, getting in front of a group of people and listening to them about the issues that matter to them, and telling them what matters to you and how you think. And having that level of exchange that is so energizing and so rewarding, that it is worth putting up with a few phone call sessions that your campaign team forces you to do.

Jennifer Lawless  50:12

It was unquestionably the best experience I’ve ever had. And that even considering the concession call.

Andy Slavitt 

I wouldn’t give you both the last words, but I’m going to close my portion. By doing my part and saying, You both should run. You should run again, Jennifer, I can’t imagine that there’s a candidate in Rhode Island that can hold a candle to you. And, Erin, same with you. If it’s ever something you’ve thought about. And I’m sure people have told you this before. That’s my encouragement, but I will let you each have the last word here.

Erin Loos Cutraro 

Okay, I’ll jump in. So look, I think we’ve talked about it, I always like to be really direct with the what do you do with this information, what you do is you take action, you, you know that you’re part of the process, in order to have a healthy democracy, we have to take actions we can’t just sit by and an action is simple as telling women in your life that they should consider elected office is doable for every single one of us. So you know, she should runs a resource for that. Don’t give up don’t be frustrated by you know, all the mess that you see. And think that there’s no change that can be made, we have to remain eye on the ball of, you know, seeing that true representation.

Jennifer Lawless 

I would just encourage everybody to look around and see the people that are currently in office and hold themselves relative to them, not to some hypothetical bar that nobody could ever meet. And if you think that you know, is nothing and you’re as passionate as the elected leaders that are already out there. There’s no reason not to throw your own hat into the ring.

Andy Slavitt  52:13

Well, thank you both for joining me for Friday conversation. Thanks for being in the bubble. Great having you here. I hope you have a great weekend. Okay, thank you all for listening, spending some of your Friday or your weekend, if you’re playing the sun, Saturday or Sunday, or whenever you’re playing this. I hope that was inspiring. I thought they were both fantastic. Well, the episodes where I am learning as I go are the ones that I really enjoyed the best. And I thought this was a really smart episode. But give us feedback and how you think our Friday conversations are going we’ll have another one of these next Friday, very likely to tap it will be inflation, as we are really focused on kind of what the hit to the economy is making on everyday people, our lives, our politics, etc. We got two great shows coming up John King from CNN is on Monday. He is the dude who works that magic board during the election cycle. And so we want to get a little bit of a preview into what’s going on with the midterms, how all the things we’re seeing around the world are likely affecting them. If you’ve never seen John kind of unplugged. He is a really loose, interesting guy who tells you exactly what he thinks. So that’ll be fun. Wednesday, we have a show that’s dedicated to the parents and kids who have can work through the pandemic. We’ve got a great guest to talk about the mental health issues, most of the negatives and some of the positives that may be emerging from the pandemic. Your name is Dr. Ben Zynga Harrison and we’re going to play the commencement address that I just gave last week at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the great guests to follow. I hope you have good plans for the weekend. I hope you are going to relax, do some fun stuff and really enjoy the people in your life. I will be looking forward to talking to you again on Monday.


Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.

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