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Gendering the European Parliament

Gender and Political Ambition in Mixed Member Electoral Systems

Comparative Politics
Comparative Perspective
Hilde Coffe
University of Bath
Hilde Coffe
University of Bath
Louise Davidson-Schmich
University of Miami

Research on gender and political ambition has mostly focused on countries employing entrepreneurial candidate selection for Single Member Districts such as the US (e.g., Lawless and Fox 2010, 2015; Shames 2017; Preece and Stoddard 2015; Kanthank and Woon 2014). Although some work has been done on European countries where political parties are primarily responsible for selecting candidates, mostly for party lists (Wolbrecht and Campbell 2007; Davidson-Schmich 2016; Avdeyeva, Vinokurova, and Kugaevsky 2017), empirical research examining gender, political ambition and ballot structure (Single Member Districts (SMD) vs Proportional Representation (PR)) has – to our knowledge – never been systematically undertaken. Countries with Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) systems such as Germany and New Zealand offer interesting cases in which to explore the role of ballot structure and electoral rules as both the SMD component (MPs elected in an electorate) and PR component (MPs elected via a party list) operate in the same socio-economic and political context and culture. Our paper, therefore, asks whether the type of seat available (list or electorate) shapes men’s and women’s political ambitions in Germany and New Zealand’s MMP electoral systems.

There are theoretical reasons to expect that gender and seat type will intersect to shape ambition. Considerable empirical evidence on MMP indicates that women face many more demand-side hurdles in achieving nominations for directly-elected constituency seats than they do in receiving nominations to appear on party lists (Barker and Coffé 2018; Curtin 2014; Davidson-Schmich 2014). One proposed explanation for the gender difference in representation under MMP is that, when only one candidate can be chosen, as is the case in SMD electorates, party selectorates tend to choose male candidates who are thought to be more likely to win a seat (Davidson-Schmich 2014). In contrast, party lists offer selectors opportunities to engage in ticket-balancing, nominating both male and female candidates (Salmond 2006). Moreover, gender quotas or informal diversity promotion norms are more easily combined with district magnitudes greater than one than with SMD electorates (Dahlerup 2009).

The question that arises from these findings is whether women’s greater likelihood to be selected as a list candidate within MMP systems shapes the political ambition of women considering running for elective office in countries using dual ballot systems? In other words, are women more likely to concentrate their aspirations on list positions while men express more interest in running for constituency seats and thus in representing a constituency? We empirically investigate this question through qualitative interviews in both Germany and New Zealand. Interviewees represent parties across the political spectrum in both countries and range from grassroots-level party leaders who have considered or are considering a run for elective office, all the way to members of the German and New Zealand national parliaments, some elected via a party list and others directly elected from their constituencies.


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