Do gender quotas reduce the quality of politicians elected to a legislature?

Welcome to the latest in my occasional series highlighting interesting findings from academic research. Today – the impact of quotas on the quality of elected representatives.

In the debate over quotas (usually gender quotas), a frequently used argument is that quotas are wrong because it should always be about the best person for the job. However, that fundamentally misunderstands politics and standing for office, as both running for office and being an elected member for a political party is a team enterprise, not a solely individualistic one. Because it’s a team enterprise then, when picking any member of the team, it not only makes sense but is extremely desirable to consider the overall make-up of the team. The ‘best person for the job’ is the one who best compliments the rest of the team, and that often means the best person to compliment a male-dominated team is a woman – a point I’ve expanded on before.

But what does that do to the make-up of the individuals that get elected? It’s a question that Peter Allen, David Cutts and Rosie Campbell have looked at:

Do gender quotas reduce the quality of politicians elected to a legislature? For the first time in the literature, this article addresses this question by examining the quality of ‘quota women’ compared to their non-quota colleagues at three stages of their political career: their electoral performance, their qualifications for political office and their post-election legislative career trajectories. Drawing on the unique case of Britain following the 1997 general election, no significant difference is found between the quality of ‘quota women’ and their non-quota colleagues. Voters do not punish ‘quota women’ at the ballot box; ‘quota women’ are as equally qualified for political office as their colleagues; and the gatekeepers of executive office do not discriminate against ‘quota women’ in front-bench promotions.

In other words, even if the team perspective does not persuade you and you’re resolutely focused on seeing the candidate as an individual in isolation from the rest of the party, then there’s nothing to fear from quotas for the quality of candidates you end up with.

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

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