Leslie Knope: Campaign Role Model

July 06, 2012

Here at AAUW’s national office, a frequent topic of water-cooler conversation is how much we love NBC’s Parks and Recreation, particularly its female protagonist, Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler). We have watched Leslie grapple with local government bureaucracy in the Parks and Recreation Department of fictional Pawnee, Indiana, for years. But this past season, Leslie stepped it up by running for City Council and winning!

This story line was of particular interest to my co-workers and me because it relates to the work we do on Elect Her–Campus Women Win, a program that we offer in collaboration with Running Start. Elect Her encourages and trains college women to run for student government. By getting more women interested in politics early on, Elect Her helps to build the pipeline of women running for office with the goal of diminishing the long-standing political leadership gender gap. I look forward to next season to see how Leslie continues to break barriers as a member of City Council!

Women can learn from Leslie’s campaigning strategies in Parks and Recreation. Here are the top 10 ways Leslie is a great role model for all women running for office (click the links to see clips):

  1. She got started early. Even at age 10, Leslie saw herself as a capable political candidate. One of the best ways to get more women in political office is to help them start on the path to politics at a young age.
  2. She knows her issues. Leslie stays on top of all of the issues facing Pawnee, and she can articulate her stance on any of them — and all of them!
  3. She tailors her message to her audience. Leslie knows that each community in Pawnee has different priorities, and she knows to approach each one individually.
  4. She knows how to use her network. Leslie has constructed a campaign team that utilizes all the best strengths her friends and colleagues have to offer. Smooth-talking Tom and optimistic Chris make up her media “spin team,” pragmatic and experienced Ben is her campaign manager, and even contented worker-bee Jerry is her official envelope-stuffer.
  5. She is composed in the face of media scrutiny. Having gone head-to-head with Pawnee Today host Joan Callamezzo many times, Leslie is able to defend her actions and ideas on television without hesitation.
  6. She is prepared for the double-edged sword. Like many women in power, Leslie is all too familiar with the pressure to appear determined enough to be taken seriously — but not so much that she comes off as too aggressive or mean. She powers through these expectations and keeps her message clear.
  7. She embraces servant leadership. Sure, Leslie is ambitious (her goal is to become the first woman president), but it’s not because she is hungry for power. Leslie is Pawnee’s biggest fan, and she is running for City Council because she desperately wants to serve its citizens.
  8. She sticks to her principles. Although it is tempting, Leslie does not let her campaign stoop to negative attack ads.
  9. She gets out the vote. Right before the election, Leslie and her team are not shy about getting her name (and face!) out there in a big way.
  10. She is closing the gender gap in political representation. By running for Pawnee City Council, Leslie is taking one more step toward political parity for women. Currently, women make up only 23.7 percent of state legislatures and 16.8 percent of the U.S. Congress. When women run for office, they win at the same rates as men. So what we need are more women like Leslie to run!

Learn more about these issues and strategies by attending or hosting an Elect Her training on your local campus.

Jessica Kelly By:   |   July 06, 2012

1 Comment

  1. […] talents to this effort. The bottom line: If anybody can get it done, we can! Like the fictional (yet still inspiring) Leslie Knope, of  NBC’s Parks and Recreation, start small but think big because your sons […]

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