My Review of Shauna Shames’ Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why It Matters

This is the story of a multi-year investigation into why elite, well qualified young adults who are already on a path toward a career in policy or law are not more interested in running for office. 

Shauna Shames, a Political Scientist and researcher in American political behavior, has added a meaningful narrative to the discussion of contemporary American political life with an insightful and well-researched study of why a group of well-educated and qualified young adults are choosing to focus their attention on meaningful work into areas other than elected office with Out of the Running: Why Millennials Reject Political Careers and Why It Matters (New York University Press, 2017)

This book combines thorough research  of a select group of young adults, primarily Harvard Law and Government School students of multiple races and both genders, who look at running for office as a negative and choose to put their energies elsewhere in either policy making or other similar efforts. Drawing on her significant research that is presented in numerous charts and tables throughout the book, she concludes among other things, that for some groups, such as women of color and especially African American women, the costs of running for office outweigh the potential rewards.

Out of the Running is not just a book about barriers to running in which a highly qualified segment of a significant generational group is looking the other way when it comes to politics. It is also a book that reveals the current challenges of contemporary American politics to court and cultivate the next generation of elected leaders.

One such challenge, Shames notes, is  that the current American-system,  is based, on a “candidate-centered system” today compared to a “party-centric” system where the party chooses the candidates to run.

“…our parties here, compared with their counterparts in other democracies, have relatively little control over who will run under their name…candidate selection…is “crowd-sourced” in the United States.”

Some readers may argue with Shames that such “crowd sourcing” is normal and part of the American political climate. However, Shames points out that the ambition needed to run in such a system is not there or is thwarted by many barriers in her subject’s views. Barriers she notes at length in the book.

Out of the Running is a very insightful and important, in this reviewer’s opinion, look at a variety of streams in not just American political life, but American life in general (especially as it relates to the still lingering affects of racism in the US that Shames notes in a significant passage in the book) and how they have merged in the current time to produce a low-view of politics and elected office.

I enjoyed this book because I think that Shames used solid research methods to bring out significant views and perspectives not based the “latest poll numbers.” This will make an excellent text book in both undergraduate and graduate political science classes as well as for those interested in growing the next generation of political leadership.

I gave this book a five-star rating on Goodreads

Note: I received an electronic ARC copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. I was not required to write a positive review.


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