political

What do the academics say? Fielding more female candidates helps political parties gain votes

Women and the vote - image from MIT

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – the rather topical issue of gender and candidates with a study from last year which I’ve not covered previously:

Political parties find that their fortunes improve when they put more women on the ballot, according to a study co-authored by an MIT economist.

The study analyzes changes to municipal election laws in Spain, which a decade ago began requiring political parties to have women fill at least 40 percent of the slots on their electoral lists. With other factors being equal, the research found, parties that increased their share of female candidates by 10 percentage points more than their opponents enjoyed a 4.2 percentage-point gain at the ballot box, or an outright switch of about 20 votes per 1,000 cast.

“When you force a party to field more women, they gain votes,” says Albert Saiz…

Saiz believes the study strikes a blow against some common justifications for the dearth of female candidates in many democracies — namely, that voters simply prefer voting for men, or that not enough high-quality female candidates are available to political parties. It is likely that voters will support women, he thinks, and that plenty of good female candidates exist — but women do not appear on ballots as frequently as men because of machinations within party organizations. [MIT]

Older studies across industrialised democracies find a range of results about the impact of female candidates, being consistent at a minimum in their findings that having more female candidates does not lose a party votes and then varying in their findings beyond that.

In particular, the mechanism by which more female candidates can lead to more votes is open to a range of explanations, from the direct – such as women being more likely to vote for women (an effect which has been found in some but not all studies which went looking for it) – through to the more indirect, such as that having a diverse set of candidates makes a party look modern and in-touch, generating more affirmative responses to ‘does the party understand and care for people like me?’. That is particularly pertinent for the Liberal Democrats right now, given that not only is the majority of the electorate female, but also the most fruitful group of voters for the party to appeal to is even more female on average than that.

You can read the other posts in the What do the academics say? series here.

14 comments
Flo Clucas
Flo Clucas

Yes. It was a report presented to the FEMM committee last Wednesday, the 17th. A UK company, Opsit did the research and Katie McCracken presented the findings. As Cathetine Vearder is a member of the Committee, she may be able to get a copy to you. I am waiting for one to be sent to me.

Chloe Phillips
Chloe Phillips

Absolutely, I stood and worked for the party until health problems constrained what I could do and was used by my Tory opponent as well as the fact that I was a single mother with two kids, sadly it worked!!

Margaret Foster
Margaret Foster

I had a big issue before I joined the Party then stood in my Ward. Lots of ladies do stand but just don't get voted in. I tell ladies in my Ward how much of a difference they could make to their community but of course then there is the selection process and s man always puts himself over as more confident in tackling problems which of course I don't agree with. Plus it can take ups lot of time energy getting elected with getting yourself out there Canvassing ect.

Jayne Phoenix
Jayne Phoenix

Politics as we all know can be a dirty business. A person(man or woman, LGBT+) has to have a very thick skin. If we look at this as an outsider, someone who isnt involved at all in politics( difficult I know) it would be difficult to entice any one in to that profession. There is the pure theatre of PMQs. The public see this behaviour and quite frankly believe that is actually how politics is run. They read about the abuse that people like Nick got after entering in to a coalition( doing the very thing that the Germans do without blinking). They read news stories about how people have been belittled and bullied and for women especially they see how difficult it was ( for eg , was it Jenny Willot who was on the TV programme seen bringing her children on the train in to work then taking them to school, then meeting up after work with her husband and eating in her parliamentary office. Hats off to her for that , but it didn't exactly positively fly the flag to recruit more women with children in to parliament. So until the image that politics has changes it may be difficult to entice us!

Jayne Phoenix
Jayne Phoenix

Lib Dem Newswire I am in that camp who believe what I see. I don't want to sound derogatory to the Labour Party but the only woman who stands out as a really great MP for them is Margaret Hodge. I am not saying that they aren't hard working women MPs. I am saying that none of them seem outstanding to me.

Lib Dem Newswire
Lib Dem Newswire

Sounds interesting! Have you got any links / further detail?

Flo Clucas
Flo Clucas

Interesting presentation at the European parliament yesterday on latest research. Setting targets makes a real difference.

Mark Jackson
Mark Jackson

Why do I think, sadly, that all female short-lists, will lead to more Louise Mensch style "Celeb-a-Rep" candidates that eithet file for Stewardship of Manor of Northstead or only serve a single term? LM was a formidable MP no doubt and it was a shame she left Westminster but its clear that successful female MPs can easily earn more cash after 4 years (especially if they fit the media luvvie bill). . . .

Daniel Kelly
Daniel Kelly

I'm sure more prominent female candidates will encourage more to come forward too. Same with BME candidates. It's about more than the end result, it's about encouraging a wider range of people to get involved in the party and perhaps see themselves as candidate material.

Charlotte Radmore
Charlotte Radmore

I always like some research to back up what we all think we already know! Question: how to get more ladies "actively" involved at a local level?

Lib Dem Newswire
Lib Dem Newswire

'This helps you win more votes' isn't the same as 'this means you will always win' unfortunately! Just as lots of seats did lots of canvassing - which helps win votes too - but didn't necessarily end up winning.

Jayne Phoenix
Jayne Phoenix

How can this be though when we did field worthy female candidates and they were not voted in?

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