Candidate perceptions of a career in politics

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Angelia Wagner
Department of political science
University of Alberta
Grant received in 2015-2016

How do perceptions of the feasibility of political candidacy shape the willingness of different groups of women and men to run for elected office? The Political Candidacy in Canada project will make a major contribution to our understanding of why gender parity in legislatures and municipal councils remains an elusive goal in the 21st century by determining what role women and men’s potentially differing attitudes toward a career in politics play in the candidate emergence process in Canada. Specifically, how do gender differences in perceptions of opportunities and barriers to candidacy vary by level of government, and do these differences help us to understand variation in gender gaps in representation? My analysis will draw upon interviews and a short survey with individuals of diverse gender identities, races/ethnicities, sexualities, class backgrounds, political ideologies, and geographical locations about their reasons for running, or not running, for elected office. Research participants will be either (1) recent candidates and sitting politicians at the federal, provincial, and municipal levels or (2) individuals identified as strong candidates for elected office but who have not yet run. A minimum of 96 individuals are expected to be interviewed, with additional interviews conducted depending upon the need to address emerging themes in the data. The objectives are twofold. First, my project is identifying factors that discourage different groups of women and men from becoming candidates. Early findings indicate that social media attacks and controversies, employment issues, occupational norms, public scrutiny concerns, and degree of ideological or policy alignment with the major political parties are leading many individuals to hesitate about pursuing office. I have also found that a candidate’s sexual orientation still complicates the electoral environment in Canada despite improvements in mainstream attitudes toward sexual minorities, while a co-authored chapter looks at the eligibility, recruitment, selection, and election of LGBT candidates. Second, my project is identifying factors that encourage different groups of women and men to become candidates, such as a desire to make a difference, pursue specific policy ideas, or remove incumbents. Two questions have already been raised by my postdoctoral research that I intend to explore in future projects. How important are the factors identified in my postdoctoral research in shaping political candidacy today? Why do some factors matter more than others in the decision to run, or not run, for elected office? To answer these questions, I plan to conduct a large-scale survey with Canadians from the traditional candidate pipelines of law, business, education, and political activism to determine the extent to which new and recurring factors shape the political aspirations of different groups of women and men. Second, I intend to explore the risks that social media poses to candidate recruitment and retention. Over the course of my postdoctoral project, several participants identified social media as a 21st century barrier to candidacy. They suggested that fears about online trolls targeting them with misleading comments or hateful rhetoric or about opponents retrieving old or deleted posts to embarrass them could lead some people to opt out of politics. My current and future research on political candidacy promises a more nuanced and in-depth explanation of the candidate emergence process, one that will not only contribute to our understanding of factors shaping the under-representation of women in general but also of different groups of women and men in Canada. This research also has practical implications. Politicians and candidates can use my findings to better traverse the gendered terrain of Canadian politics, while party officials and activists can use them to refine recruitment efforts and training programs.


  • Wagner, Angelia and Elisabeth Gidengil. 2017. “Addressing Representational Deficits in Canadian Legislatures.” In Should We Change How We Vote? Evaluating Canada’s Electoral System, eds. Andrew Potter, Daniel Weinstock, and Peter Loewen, pp. 139-152. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
  • Wagner, Angelia. “LGBTQ Perspectives on Political Candidacy in Canada.” In LGBT People and Electoral Politics in Canada, ed. Manon Tremblay. Vancouver: UBC Press. Submitted January 2017.
  • Tremblay, Manon, Joanna Everitt, and Angelia Wagner. “Pathway to Office: The Eligibility, Recruitment, Selection, and Election of LGBT Candidates.” In LGBT People and Electoral Politics in Canada, ed. Manon Tremblay. Vancouver: UBC Press. Submitted January 2017.


  • Wagner, Angelia. The Value of a Dollar: The Complex Role of Money in Political Candidacy in Canada. Canadian Political Science Association conference, Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, May 30-June 1, 2017.
  • Wagner, Angelia. Digital Dangers: Has Social Media Become a New Barrier to Elected Office? Atlantic Provinces Political Science Association conference, Saint John, New Brunswick, October 14-16, 2016.
  • Wagner, Angelia. A New Barrier? The Role of Social Media in the Decision (Not) to Become a Candidate. State of Democratic Citizenship in Canada conference, Montreal, Quebec, September 23-24, 2016.
  • Wagner, Angelia. Same Decision, Different Reasons? Factors Influencing the Candidate Emergence Process in Canada. Centre for the Study of Democratic Citizenship Graduate Student Conference, Quebec City, Quebec, March 10-11, 2016.

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