Women are greatly underrepresented in elected office. A large literature on the subject has considerably advanced our understanding of this phenomenon, but many questions remain unanswered. Using original aggregate and individual-level data, the authors explore the interplay of candidate gender, partisanship, incumbency, and campaign spending in a multimember preferential voting system. This setting allows unparalleled exploration of the heterogeneous nature of voter decision making. The authors find little evidence for an independent effect of candidate gender on voter choice. Voters do not discriminate against women even in an electoral environment that affords them this opportunity without any cost to their partisan preferences.
women and politics, elections and voting behavior, European politics and society, comparative politics of advanced industrial societies
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With few exceptions, women are greatly underrepresented in elected office across the industrialized world. This descriptive underrepresentation of women has been attributed to a multitude of factors: voter prejudice, biases in recruitment practices, campaign effects, and shortfalls in the supply of women willing to run. Unfortunately, some of this research has produced inconsistent, even contradictory results. Two particularly contested issues relate to how the inclusion of female candidates on the ballot affects voters and how this in turn affects electoral competition. Such basic questions as whether the electorate discriminates against women in general, whether women vote disproportionately for women, and whether voters perceive female and male candidates differently remain unresolved. Most studies of the success rates of women candidates have focused on the, perhaps atypical, world of U.S. congressional elections wherein few women run and those who do are concentrated geographically and clustered in the Democratic Party. This article contributes to the debate on voting behavior and gender by examining the issue in the rather different context of the Republic of Ireland. This is an electoral environment that offers more choice to the electorate in terms of both opportunities to vote for women and the partisan affiliations of female candidates. It thus offers a more nuanced set of observations for the analyst.
The political context of Irish elections certainly offers voters the opportunity to support female candidates. Research has shown that female candidates are more common where district magnitudes are higher (Matland and Brown 1992; Rule 1987) and the multimember nature of Irish constituencies provides electorates with more flexibility in nominating women. In addition, the multiparty system also means that a voter may choose a woman candidate without having to vote for the "other side," as may occur in two-party systems. If voter choice is between a number of quite similar parties, the gender of the candidate may tip the balance (one way or another). Finally, the Irish electoral system is also a preferential one, permitting voters to choose in many cases between candidates of the same party. Some authorities have suggested that such systems advantage individual women candidates (Rule 1994; Shugart 1994), particularly if there are fewer women than men running. This set of circumstances would thus seem to be conducive to increasing the significance of candidate gender as a factor in electoral choice. Exploration of the Irish case is therefore of interest because it helps to assess a range of conditions in which gender may be electorally important.
This article proceeds as follows. To begin, we examine the existing literature on the topic. Next, we look more closely at the opportunities for a gender-based vote in the 2002 general election. We then outline the data available and the analyses that will be conducted. There are three parts to this analysis. …