Kaplan survey shows connection between gender, political pursuits

By Alyssa Groeninger

A survey done this past December found that almost half of aspiring lawyers have a desire to run for political office. However, there is a 14 percent gap between the population of males and females with political aspirations.

Kaplan Test Prep, Inc., an organization that prepares students for college entrance and postgraduate exams, has released the results of a survey of students taking the December 2007 Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Russell Schaffer, senior communications manager for Kaplan, said 42 percent of those taking the LSAT “definitely want to” or “will probably” run for political office. However, Schaffer said that of the students taking the test, a higher percentage of males desire to run for political office than females. Fifty-two percent of male LSAT takers, as compared to 34 percent of female LSAT takers, have political aspirations.

The 14 percent gender gap found in this survey comes at a time when Hillary Clinton is campaigning to become the first woman to serve as president of the United States and there are a record number of women in Congress, Schaffer said. He added that 16 percent of Congress is female, more than double the percentage of female members of Congress from 20 years ago.

Schaffer said that despite the record number of women in Congress and the possibility of a female president, there is still a divide in male and female political interest.

“Politics and elected office is one profession that has not only been male dominated, it has been male only,” Schaffer said.

Get The Daily Illini in your inbox!

  • Catch the latest on University of Illinois news, sports, and more. Delivered every weekday.
  • Stay up to date on all things Illini sports. Delivered every Monday.
Thank you for subscribing!

This is the first time Kaplan has studied the gender gap in political hopefuls, Schaffer said. They decided to do this survey because of record high interest in the election and the potential of a female president.

The study also looked at the correlation between attending law school and running for political office. Schaffer said the correlation is evident in the current election because Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. John Edwards, Sen. Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani all have backgrounds in law. Schaffer also said law is the most common field for members of congress.

Many students view high-ranking political leaders as role models and attend law school as an entrance to politics because a great many politicians are lawyers, said Steven Beckett, professor of Law at the University.

“It is a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he said. “This seed is planted in our brains.”

According to Beckett, people think law school is good preparation for a career in politics, and they also view it as a good opportunity to network.

“There’s a real tradition there and a real historical precedent of people who went to law school going on to high office,” Schaffer said.

Law school helps prepare one for politics, he said.

“In law school, aspiring lawyers are trained in how to deal with complicated topics,” Schaffer said. He added that law school teaches students to convince people to believe in their way of thinking and how to stay on point when trying to connect with someone.

Beckett also said politics and law go hand-in-hand.

“The practice of law in a community lends itself to ties that can lead to politics,” he said.

Beckett added that to be successful as a politician an individual needs to be visible within their community and practicing law makes them visible to their fellow citizens.

Politics revolves around the law, said Justin Randall, president of the University student body. Learning the law allows you to learn politics, he said.

“All of the skills that you need to be a lawyer are the same skills you need to be a successful politician,” Randall said.