Contenders and pretenders: Underdog political candidates, their motivations and challenges
Every other year, hundreds of incumbent challengers, third-party candidates, and other hopeless contestants run for Congress. Why do political candidates run when they have little or no chance of winning?; This project answers this question through mixed methodology, employing both a novel survey and over 100 in-depth interviews with congressional candidates. Based on previous literature and theory, it formulates a typology of motivations which includes sincere, strategic, and passionate motivations. The findings indicate that there are a substantial number of both contenders---those who care about winning the election---and pretenders---those that run solely for other reasons. Of the contenders, many overestimate their chances for success and may not have run otherwise. Of the pretenders, a small number run for business purposes, but many---especially third-party candidates---run to promote their party. Nearly all candidates, however, were motivated by their personal convictions and a feeling of accomplishment that comes with participating in democracy at such an intimate level. This, above all, motivated candidates to run even in the face of insurmountable odds. This dissertation also assesses the effectiveness of ballot access laws in keeping third-party candidates off the ballot. By creating scale measures for the difficulty of party qualification and candidate ballot access, it allows for the analysis of previously untested hypotheses. It confirms the view that restrictions on candidate ballot access are a significant deterrent to third-party candidates, while also noting that party qualification---mandatory in some states---has a similar if less powerful effect.