Research Finds That Despite Lingering Barriers, Training Programs Can Help Women Take Next Step and Run for Office

  • Nov 9, 2017
  • Allison Abney


November 9, 2017

MEDIA CONTACT: Allison Abney

Research Finds That Despite Lingering Barriers, Training Programs Can Help Women Take Next Step and Run for Office

Washington, D.C.—Today, Emerge America, the nation’s premier organization that recruits, trains and provides a powerful network for Democratic women interested in running for office, released the results of a survey of more than 700 of their alumnae on the fears that women—even those who have gone through intensive candidate training—still have about running, the barriers that women candidates face and what can help women take the next step and run. The analysis reveals important insights into the mindsets of women who have gone through an extensive training program, but have not yet run, and those who have taken the next step and done it.

“Women are motivated to improve the world around them, so it’s up to us to make politics a realm where they feel like they can channel their community involvement,” said Andrea Dew Steele, President and Founder of Emerge America. “Even the most prepared of women who go through Emerge America’s six-month training program face obstacles to running for office. The results of this survey can help inform the work of those of us who are working to increase the number of women in office by helping us focus on strategies that actually lessen barriers and provide additional support. While we are excited by the large numbers of women who have declared their interest in running for office this year, we are committed to making sure we get Democratic women to actually file papers and run. There is a reason that only a little more than a quarter of political offices are held by women. If we are going to build a reflective democracy, where women are adequately represented, we need to figure out what those reasons are and address them.”

The respondents of the Emerge survey represent a dedicated subsection of women, those who have indicated an interest in running for office and taken a training program to learn how.

Key Findings:

  • Intensive training programs with powerful existing on-the-ground networks can help women take the next step, run and win.
    • A full 45 percent (310) of the survey’s respondents had run for office.
    • Of those who had run, 60 percent reported winning their races.
    • Of those who had not run, 80 percent were planning to do so in the near future. 
    • Structural factors act as barriers for women who want to run, including where they live, their age and whether or not they are their family’s breadwinner.
    • Timing, opportunity and a perceived lack of experience are major obstacles to getting women to run. 
    • If we want to get women to run, we must make politics useful to them. Women who had run cited a desire to improve their community as the main reason they ran. A key factor that would make all the women who took the survey more likely to run is that their community would struggle without them.
    • Women candidates cite difficulty fundraising as the biggest challenge they faced as a candidate and the area where they would like additional support. 

The survey also compares fears that different subsets of women, such as those who have run vs. those who haven’t, women of color vs. white women, older vs. younger women and LGBTQIA women vs. straight women, have about running. Those findings can be found in the full executive summary.

“Despite a number of barriers to running for office, from familial and financial obligations to their own perceived lack of experience, most of Emerge America’s alumnae who took this survey had run for office anyway or were planning on doing so in the near future,” said Shauna Shames, Assistant Professor of Political Science at Rutgers University, a member of the Scholar’s Strategy Network and one of the scholars who administered the survey. “With the unprecedented interest from women who want to run in the wake of the 2016 election, it’s my hope that those working on the front lines of the women’s movement can take these findings and use them to create smart and effective support systems that will encourage even more women to run and sustain their current high level of engagement in politics.”

On Tuesday, 85 out of 129 Emerge America alumnae who were on the ballot won their races. Emerge alumnae running for the Virginia House of Delegates helped Democrats take back a significant amount of power in the state’s legislature when 11 of the 18 alums running for the body won their races. In fact, of the 15 seats that flipped from red to blue, nine were won by Emerge alumnae. This includes Danica Roem, the first out transgender state legislator in the country, Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala, the first Latinas in the House of Delegates, and Kathy Tran, the first Asian American woman in the House of Delegates. What’s more, Emerge alumna Deborah Gonzalez won her race for the Georgia State House, flipping a conservative seat. Overall in 2017, 151 of the 207 Emerge alumnae that have appeared on general election ballots won their races—a 73 percent win rate. And 336 of the organization’s alumnae have already stepped forward to run in 2017 and 2018.

For more information, please contact Allison Abney at (202)670-7994 or




Emerge America gives Democratic women who want to run for public office a unique opportunity. We are the only in-depth, six-month, 70-hour, training program providing aspiring female leaders with cutting-edge tools and training to run for elected office and elevate themselves in our political system. Since our founding in 2005, we have expanded the Emerge program into 23 states — Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin—and trained over 3,000 women.