Running From Office: Why Americans Dislike Politics and Politicians

Jennifer Lawless – American University

With more than 500,000 elected positions in the United States, the American political system can only sustain itself and succeed if a large number of citizens eventually put themselves forward for public service. But Washington’s performance over the past two decades, with an increase in partisanship, prolonged stalemates, and numerous scandals, has taken a toll on the American people. The mean-spirited, dysfunctional political system that has come to characterize American politics has turned people off to the idea of engaging in politics. And it has turned the next generation off to running for office.

In this lecture, Jennifer L. Lawless will present new data about people’s opinions about contemporary politics and their political ambition (or lack of it). She’ll also explain why young Americans, in particular, feel completely alienated from contemporary politics and express little aspiration to run for office in the future. Through an original, national survey of more than 4,000 high school and college students, as well as more than 100 in-depth interviews, she will demonstrate that the overwhelming majority view the political system as ineffective, broken, and unappealing. But Professor Lawless’ message is not one of all gloom and doom. She will also provide practical suggestions for how new technologies, national service programs, and well-strategized public service campaigns could turn things around.