Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Separate but Not Equal: The Effects of Municipal Electoral Reform on Female Representation in Chile

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Separate but Not Equal: The Effects of Municipal Electoral Reform on Female Representation in Chile

Article excerpt

Abstract

Chile altered its electoral rules for municipal elections in 2002. The new rules separated mayoral and council member elections, and while the latter continue to use proportional representation, mayors are now chosen based on plurality. These changes serve as a natural test of the effects of electoral rules on women's political representation. The Chilean case demonstrates (1) that electoral reform is gendered, (2) that women's representation is shaped by both formal and informal rules, and (3) that electoral rules have different effects on mayoral and council member positions, demonstrating that the "glass ceiling" for executive positions is harder to crack.

Keywords

municipal politics, Chile, gender, candidate selection, electoral rules, mayors, council members, informal institutions

Empirical studies of women's representation have primarily sought to explain variation in women's access to political office. To this end, researchers have explored three types of factors believed to influence the overall number of women elected: institutional or "demand-side" factors, such as electoral rules and candidate selection procedures; structural factors that affect the "supply" of female candidates, such as the proportion of women in the workforce and women's educational achievements; and cultural or ideational factors that influence the likelihood that voters will support female candidates. Of these three sets of factors, scholars have consistently found the most evidence for the role of institutional variables. Specifically, women's representation is generally higher in countries with proportional electoral rules, closed party lists, and relatively high district magnitude (Rule 1987; Welch and Studlar 1990; Caul 1999). While this finding has been confirmed in numerous large-N cross-national studies, case study research of single national contexts reveals the limits of generalizations drawn from large-N studies. In some cases women's representation changes without a corresponding change in the electoral system or institutional environment, and in other cases women's representation remains constant despite electoral reform (Krook 2010). This signals the need for more in-depth investigation of the factors that shape women's access to elected office. A close examination of a single country over time can reveal how electoral rules interact in a dynamic way with other features of the institutional and political environment to produce changes in women's representation and aid our understanding of how informal institutions affect women's access to power.

An examination of patterns of women's representation in municipal elections in Chile is a perfect example of the insights that can be gained from such a research strategy. The Chilean case serves as a natural test of the effects of electoral reform.1 Women's representation increased in the 2004 elections, after three previous elections (1992, 1996, and 2000) where patterns of women's representation remained constant. Although changes in electoral rules did occur prior to the 2004 elections, the overall electoral system remained the same (open-list proportional representation). The new electoral rules have separated mayoral and council member elections; while the latter continue to use proportional representation, mayors are now chosen based on plurality. Because plurality elections are generally considered less "women friendly" than proportional representation, we might have expected to see a decline in female mayors following this reform. However, while the formal rule officially separated mayoral and council member elections, the previous existence of an informal rule of a privileged candidate (the coalition privileged a candidate; other coalition candidates were charged with increasing the vote share for this individual so that the privileged candidate would earn a plurality of votes and become mayor) had effectively separated these elections, explaining the lack of change that we see after this separation. …

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