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The Politics of the Pool: Candidate Recruitment by Political Parties in Canada

Gender
Political Parties
Representation
Candidate
Race
Mixed Methods
Erin Tolley
University of Toronto
Erin Tolley
University of Toronto

Abstract

Although much has been written about women’s continued numerical under-representation in politics, parties consistently advance candidate slates that numerically under-represent women and other marginalized groups. This raises questions about one's willingness to enter politics, but equally about how parties identify, recruit and select candidates. Because membership in, and nomination by, an established political party is strongly correlated with electoral success, it is clear that a lack of descriptive representation in elected institutions is a problem that begins quite early on in the political pipeline. Despite the importance of candidate recruitment to descriptive representation, we know little about parties' candidate nomination practices. While existing literature has looked quite extensively at candidate selection by party members, this paper begins earlier in the political pipeline, examining the candidate pool and investigating how parties go about identifying and recruiting potential candidates. The paper presents findings from a study of candidate recruitment by political parties during the 2015 Canadian federal election. It uses three sources of data. First, it provides a demographic portrait of the more than 800 individuals who ran for their party’s nomination in advance of the 2015 election. Second, it presents data from a survey of party elites, which highlights the struggle that parties face when trying to implement equity and inclusion initiatives at the nomination level. Third, it uses interviews with nomination contestants, recruiters and party elites to pinpoint the examples of best (and worst) practices in political recruitment. The paper argues that parties’ inclusionary rhetoric does not fully extend to their recruitment practices. A reliance on established networks and old-style recruitment practices results in candidate slates that do not descriptively represent the general population.