6. Are Ambitious MPs Successful?
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83 6. Are Ambitious MPs Successful? chapter sixx We now know there are ambitious politicians in the parliament. Two questions remain. On the one hand, I want to know whether ambitious MPs achieve career attainment. My question is simple: Does the drive to make a career in politics lead to career attainment? On the other hand, I want to put the Swedish results in a comparative light: Does Sweden differ from other European parliaments with regard to the occurrence of ambitious MPs? We will discuss the first question in this chapter. Chapter 7 will report on the proportion of MPs in European parliaments who have career ambitions. AMBITION AND CAREER ATTAINMENT The research on which MPs achieve successful careers in legislative assemblies is relatively limited (Patzelt 1999). Scholars have instead studied who gets elected to parliament and the consequences (Esaiasson and Holmberg 1996; Eulau and Wahlke 1978; Holmberg 1974; Kavanagh 1992; Norris 1996, 1997; Norris and Lovenduski 1995; Putnam 1976). Because they presume that everyone who runs for office is ambitious, American researchers are more interested in which strategies are successful than in which legislative members succeed in their careers (see, e.g., Banks and Kiewiet 1989; Gaddie and Bullock 2000; Jacobson 1989; Jacobson and Kernell 1983; Maisel and Stone 1997; Mayhew 1974; Squire 1989; Wrighton and Squire 1997). In the European context, there is to the best of my knowledge only one study that has more rigorously examined the relationship between MPs’ motivations and career attainment , Stuart Elaine Macdonald’s 1987 doctoral dissertation, Political Ambition and Attainment: A Dynamic Analysis of Parliamentary Careers. Macdonald was a member of Donald Searing’s research team, which had undertaken a major study of British parliamentarians in the 1970s.1 In that context, MPs were queried about their career ambitions. Thirteen years later, Macdonald analyzed how the respondents ’ careers had developed. The results showed that the MPs who reported political ambitions had been more successful than others (Macdonald 1987). There is a problem with Macdonald’s study, however: the operationalization of ambition was based upon two things—which offices the members aspired to, and how the members assessed their chances of succeeding. The variable ran between 0 and 9. MPs who aspired to become cabinet ministers and believed their chances were 84 chapter six good were assigned a score of 9. MPs who aspired to become cabinet ministers but assessed their chances as slight were given the value of 0. MPs who said they aspired to become cabinet ministers and believed that their opportunities were limited were thus given the same score as MPs who were not at all interested in the office (ibid). The hope for career attainment thus did not suffice to be regarded as an ambitious MP—the MP also had to believe his or her chances of success were good. This introduces the suspicion that Macdonald’s results over-interpret the importance of ambition. DO THEIR AMBITIONS HAVE ANY IMPACT ON THE MPS’ CAREERS? The main question is whether the MPs’ career trajectory between 1996 and 2006 has any relationship to their career ambitions. What I am interested in is whether the ambition to advance in the political system within a ten-year period reflects an actual career trajectory. If there is such a relationship, it would prove that career ambition has long-term significance, which has an impact when it comes to which MPs hold the top positions in our parliamentary system. The MPs’ careers will be examined from more than one perspective. A career may, for example, start at different points in time and proceed at different rates. Therefore, the first thing I want to know is whether ambitious MPs began their parliamentary careers earlier than others and how soon after joining their parties they were elected to the parliament. Thus, the focus here is on the “speed” of the career trajectory. The second aspect I will study is the MPs’ ability to fulfill their short-term preferences. Although career ambition is a long-term proposition, we can study whether ambition becomes manifest in relation to positions in the near future. I do this by looking at the MPs’ ability to attain seats on the committees they prefer. The third perspective is preoccupied with the question of whether ambitious MPs are better than others at retaining their seats in parliament. There were three general elections between 1996 and 2006. The MPs must survive internal party nominations and the voters’ verdict...


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