Gendered Pathways to Power

Identifying the Role of County Party Chairs in the Candidate Recruitment Process of Pennsylvania’s Local Elective Offices


  • Dana Brown



The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has historically fared poorly in terms of the proportion of women serving in its governing bodies. After a historic year of women in politics in 2018, Pennsylvania increased its proportion of women serving in the state legislature from 19% to 26%, which is still far from parity. Why are women so underrepresented? Political scientists have tested various variables: women’s lack of political ambition, negative gatekeeping by political parties, and gender stereotypes negatively impacting female candidates, just to name a few. This paper focuses on the role that county party chairs and vice-chairs play in recruiting female candidates to run for political office in Pennsylvania. In this article I ask: what do the recruitment efforts look like on the ground and how are the recruitment efforts gendered? In terms of recruitment efforts, I expect the stronger county party to have its leaders pull from informal networks that are extensions of the party leaders themselves. On the other hand, I expect weak county parties to cast a wide net for candidate recruitment and allow candidates to self-identify, which I call the “volunteer” model. I use interview data of county party chairs in order to understand the structure of candidate recruitment in Pennsylvania and the impact it may have on candidate selection.