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ECPR Virtual General Conference 2020

Do Open List Systems Support the Representation of Ethnic Minority Women? Evidence from the Brussels Case

Political Parties
Voting Behaviour
Chloé Janssen
Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Chloé Janssen
Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Research has shown that ethnic minority women, by being members of two marginalized groups, might face double barriers or experience a complementarity advantage in the representational process. This has notably been demonstrated in several studies looking at candidate selection process and the role of parties (Celis & Erzeel, 2015; Freidenvall, 2016; Mügge, 2016). However, studies so far tend to overlook the role of voters. Open-list systems are relevant in that sense, because of the crucial role of voters through preferential voting. As parties still play a role through list composition, both parties and voters’ behaviour shape the representational outcome for ethnic minority women. While such system is known to allow voters to overcome parties’ bias against marginalized groups (Kunovich, 2012), we don’t know how and to what extent a parties’ or voters’ bias against ethnic minority women does actually exist.
In this paper, we investigate how candidates’ ethnicity and gender interact to shape parties and voters’ behaviour in an open-list system, and how context factors play a role in influencing these actors’ strategies. We use data on three local elections in Brussels’ 19 districts to conduct our analyses. Brussels’ electoral system constitutes an interesting case regarding its socio-demographic and institutional context. First, it is an open-list system in practice considering the importance and effectiveness of preference votes. Then, the presence of gender quotas on the one hand and the increased ethnic diversity of the Brussels population on the other hand generate incentives for parties to nominate both women and ethnic minority candidates. Voters and parties’ roles are thus crucial, as gender and ethnicity shape voters’ choice, which certainly frames parties’ strategies. Our study thus allows us to investigate the existence and extent of a parties vs. voters’ bias in the representation of ethnic minority women.
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