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University of Bath

Born Politicians? Exploring Political Ambition in the UK

Who our politicians are has a major impact on all of our lives. This project asks why more British citizens don’t put themselves forward for election.

A red and blue human head cut from crumpled paper as a symbol for understanding political opinions or cultural differences
This project explores the question of why some people hold ambitions to run for political office, at any level, whilst others do not.

This project explores the question of why some people hold ambitions to run for political office, at any level, whilst others do not. The research examines different explanations for why some British people are politically ambitious and others are not and assess which factors hold the greatest influence over, and interrelate, to affect individuals' levels of political ambition. The four key explanations that I focus on are the personality types of individual people, the way that they came to know about politics as a child, what they can learn about politics from political elites, and the availability of political offices to actually run for, seeking to understand how these drive political ambition. Alongside these, I take into account individual, compositional and contextual influences, such as sex, ethnicity, age, education, and information about the areas that people live in, like their socio-economic profile and geographic location.

Robert Louis Stevenson said that 'politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary', yet despite this, it seems that it is the same kind of people who always run for political office. The last thirty or so years has seen the House of Commons come to be dominated by a middle class, highly-educated, largely male and largely white group of individuals, often referred to as the 'political class'. The same story can be seen on local councils. In the context of increasing levels of political disillusionment and declining electoral turnout, it is important that we ask why a more diverse group of people aren't putting themselves forward to be politicians.

To answer this crucial question, I am collecting high-quality data from a representative sample of the British population on levels of political ambition across the country. Within the framework of a conceptual model that distinguishes between having the intention to run for political office and actually doing so, I use novel measures of factors such as the 'Big Five' personality traits and early-life socialisation to assess how different experiences and characteristics affect the process of emerging as a political candidate. I adopt advanced statistical models to examine whether other compositional and contextual factors, such as the socio-demographic profile of the area or whether or not you live near London, affect your levels of political ambition. In short, this project, for the first time in Britain, asks why some people are politically ambitious and others are not, and in the process, allows us to highlight ways in which we can make our political life more diverse, inclusive, and democratic.