Why are politicians in the United States so much better off than the people they represent? What exactly keeps lower-income and working-class Americans out of public office? This presentation focuses on the micro-level forces that discourage politically qualified working-class Americans from running for public office. In contrast to research on gender gaps in political ambition, qualified workers appear just as likely as professionals to express serious interest in campaigning and governing. For workers, the more serious barriers are resources and recruitment: qualified workers seldom run because they can seldom shoulder the practical burdens associated with campaigning, and because they are rarely encouraged by party leaders and other elite actors. That is, workers seldom hold office not because they don't want to, but because they can't and no one asks them.
Nicholas Carnes is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Political Science at the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke University and the Co-Director of the Research Triangle chapter of the Scholars Strategy Network.
His research focuses on U.S. politics, legislative decision making, representation, social class, economic inequality, and state and local politics.