The role of women’s descriptive representation on same-gender and proximity voting among women

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  • 1 University of Ottawa, , Canada
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The article examines the relationship between the descriptive representation of women in political parties and its effect on same-gender and proximity voting among women. In particular, we examine whether women are more likely to support parties that have more women representatives or a woman party leader. We also consider whether women’s descriptive representation in parties may help women cast a vote that better corresponds to their preferences. To answer these questions, we make use of data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. We analyse respondents’ vote choice in 55 elections across 14 countries. Overall, our results show that the presence of a woman party leader motivates women to support such a party and that it also encourages women to vote for a party closer to their ideological position. The results, however, do not provide strong evidence that the presence of more women representatives in parties also fosters same-gender and proximity voting among women.

Abstract

The article examines the relationship between the descriptive representation of women in political parties and its effect on same-gender and proximity voting among women. In particular, we examine whether women are more likely to support parties that have more women representatives or a woman party leader. We also consider whether women’s descriptive representation in parties may help women cast a vote that better corresponds to their preferences. To answer these questions, we make use of data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems. We analyse respondents’ vote choice in 55 elections across 14 countries. Overall, our results show that the presence of a woman party leader motivates women to support such a party and that it also encourages women to vote for a party closer to their ideological position. The results, however, do not provide strong evidence that the presence of more women representatives in parties also fosters same-gender and proximity voting among women.

Key messages

  • Our results indicate that the presence of women party leaders motivates women to support such parties.

  • The presence of a woman leader also helps women to vote for a party closer to their ideological position.

  • These processes are beneficial for women’s descriptive and substantive representation in the democratic process.

Introduction

The proportion of women elected in legislative bodies has increased worldwide over recent decades (Wängnerud, 2009). Scholars have identified different factors explaining this surge. Electoral systems (Norris, 1996), parliamentary gender quotas (Clayton and Zetterberg, 2018) and changes in social structure (Inglehart and Norris, 2000) all represent important determinants of women’s descriptive representation in national legislatures. This improvement is important because it helps women to have a voice in the policymaking process, which could lead to better substantive representation (Phillips, 1998). Women’s descriptive representation could also affect positively how women assess the political system (Karp and Banducci, 2008).

A related literature considers the individual factors and biases that may favour voters to support female candidates and that could eventually help women’s descriptive representation. In particular, many scholars are interested in understanding whether women are more likely than men to support female candidates. Same-gender voting among women could be motivated by a gender identity (Tolleson-Rinehart, 1992) or gender stereotypes (Sanbonmatsu, 2002), a desire to increase women’s representation (Sanbonmatsu, 2003), or a sense that women representatives would be better at representing women’s preferences and interests (McDermott, 1997; Goodyear-Grant and Croskill, 2011). Some studies do suggest that these mechanisms are at work and that women are generally more prone to support a female candidate over a male candidate (Zipp and Plutzer, 1985; Plutzer and Zipp, 1996; Dolan, 1998; Sanbonmatsu, 2002).

Most of this research on same-gender voting (or gender-affinity voting), however, has been carried out in the US context, while studies that have looked at this question outside the US have generally considered only one country where voters may discriminate across candidates on party lists (Holli and Wass, 2010; McElroy and Marsh, 2010; Giger et al, 2014). Voters, however, do not always have the opportunity (because of the ballot structure) or resources (for example, due to limited knowledge of the candidates) to discriminate across female and male candidates when voting. Studies of same-gender voting that only consider women who support a woman candidate are possibly too restrictive in their operationalisation of same-gender voting. In this article, we propose to examine two additional routes through which same-gender voting could occur. In particular, we explore how the presence of a woman party leader and women representatives in a party may also foster same-gender voting among women. In addition, we also consider how proximity voting – one of the mechanisms that may motivate gender-affinity voting – is influenced by those two factors. Overall, we expect the presence of a woman leader and more women representatives in a party to foster women’s support for the party, as well as to help women choose a party that better corresponds to their preferences.

To answer these questions, we make use of data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) and examine the vote choice of 105,900 respondents in 55 elections from 14 countries. Our results show that the presence of a woman party leader does indeed motivate women to support a party. Importantly, it also encourages women to vote for a party closer to their ideological position. To our knowledge, this relationship between women’s descriptive representation and proximity voting has never been empirically considered in the literature. The results, however, do not provide strong evidence that the presence of more women representatives in parties also fosters same-gender and proximity voting among women. We believe that our results have important implications for better understanding the factors that improve women’s descriptive and substantive representation in the democratic process.

Same-gender voting

Same-gender voting sees women support women candidates in elections. Scholars have identified different mechanisms that may motivate same-gender voting among women (Goodyear-Grant and Croskill, 2011). First, women may share a sense of gender identity/consciousness (Tolleson-Rinehart, 1992). Similarly to what social identity theory predicts (Tajfel, 1982), sharing a woman’s identity should favour positive attitudes towards members of the in-group. In the context of elections, the implication is that women would favour female candidates. Second, gender stereotypes may be at play and contribute to creating a baseline gender preference across women and men (Sanbonmatsu, 2002). Third, women may be more likely to support women candidates given their knowledge of inequality in women’s descriptive representation and a desire to address this problem (Sanbonmatsu, 2003).

A fourth mechanism that we will consider more attentively relates to the possible better congruence between women’s policy preferences and those of women representatives. There is indeed empirical evidence that women are generally more to the left than men (Gidengil, 1995; Inglehart and Norris, 2000). Gender differences are also apparent in the issues that women discuss compared to men in deliberative settings (Mendelberg et al, 2014). Importantly, these gender differences are also reflected in the behaviours of women representatives (Swers, 1998; Wängnerud, 2000; Lovenduski and Norris, 2003). In particular, there is evidence that female representatives tend to be to the left and prioritise different policy issues than their male colleagues (Swers, 1998; Wängnerud, 2000; Lovenduski and Norris, 2003). For example, Kittilson (2011) found that parties with more women tend to emphasise more social issues in their manifestos. Similarly, Greene and O’Brien (2016) showed that women’s descriptive representation in parties moves party platforms to the left and also diversifies their content. An implication of these studies is that women could be more likely to support female candidates given that they better reflect their policy preferences.

While there are several reasons to expect women to support female candidates, empirical evidence is mixed. Research in the US context tends to support the thesis of same-gender voting among women, while European results are less conclusive. In probably the first research on the topic, Zipp and Plutzer’s (1985) examination of five governor and Senate elections in 1982 found that women who self-identified as independents were more likely to support female candidates, especially when candidates emphasised women’s issues. The same authors provided further empirical support for same-gender voting among women by analysing 14 governor and Senate elections across the US in 1992 (Plutzer and Zipp, 1996). Similar results were also found by Brians (2005) when looking at US House elections between 1990 and 2002, Dolan (1998) when looking at the 1992 House elections, and Sanbonmatsu (2002) in a survey experiment. On the other hand, Dolan’s (2004) and Paolino’s (1995) studies did not find such an effect in similar types of elections. Given the important role of party identification in voting choice – especially in the US context – scholars also showed that independents were more prone to same-gender voting (Fulton, 2014) and that Democrat women candidates benefited more from it than Republicans (Lawless and Person, 2008).

Moving out of the US context, scholars have taken advantage of the mandatory open party list in Finland and the single-transferable-vote system in Ireland to examine whether women tend to favour women candidates. In the context of the 2002 and 2007 Ireland and Finnish elections, respectively, scholars did not find any evidence of gender-based voting among women (Holli and Wass, 2010; McElroy and Marsh, 2010). Giger et al (2014) have recently qualified these Finnish results and indicated that same-gender voting is conditioned by district magnitude and the ratio of male to female candidates in districts. In addition, null findings of women’s same-gender voting have also been reported in Canada by Goodyear-Grant and Croskill (2011) during the 2000 and 2004 federal elections. To our knowledge, only the recent study of Golder et al (2017) provides evidence of gender-based voting among women under open-party-list systems (not under closed-list systems) based on a survey experiment in the context of the 2014 European elections.

Overall, evidence of same-gender voting among women is mixed. There is some support for the claim that women are more likely to support female candidates in the context of US elections, while this is less the case outside the US. In the next section, we discuss alternative approaches to same-gender voting and propose our expectations.

The role of women representatives and leaders

While previous studies define same-gender voting as a woman voting for a female candidate, we believe that the relationship between women’s descriptive representation and their voting behaviours could be assessed differently. In particular, we propose to consider, respectively, the role of women representatives in parties and the presence of women party leaders. Different reasons support this focus. First, we assume that the presence of elected women in a party or the presence of a woman party leader may induce women to support these parties, just as could be the case for a woman candidate. These factors may thus represent other forms of same-gender voting. Second, this focus is also applicable to electoral systems where voters do not have the opportunity to discriminate across candidates, such as a closed-list proportional representation (PR) electoral system. Women in such electoral systems cannot directly support a woman candidate, but may possibly support a party because the leader is a woman or due to the presence of many women representatives. Finally, an underlying assumption in previous studies of same-gender voting is that voters know the candidates running in their electoral district to some extent, in particular, their gender. This is a rather strong assumption given that candidates’ recognition is generally low, even in candidate-centred electoral systems (Holmberg, 2009; Van Coppenolle, 2017). On the other hand, voters are generally more knowledgeable of party leaders in parliamentary democracies and, presumably, more likely to know the gender of the leaders.1

With respect to the aforementioned mechanisms motivating same-gender voting among women, we assume that these mechanisms may also explain why the presence of elected women in a party or of a woman leader may influence women voters. Gender consciousness or a baseline gender preference in favour of women may be triggered by the presence of a significant number of women representatives or a woman party leader. Similarly, a woman who may want to increase the overall representation of women in a legislature may be tempted to support a party that has a woman leader or already has a significant number of women representatives. Finally, women’s perception of a greater congruence between their policy preferences and those of women representatives from a party may also encourage them to support the party. Given these rationales, we expect the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 1: The greater the proportion of elected women in a party, the more likely women are to support the party compared to men.

We extend this rationale to party leadership. Party leaders are fundamental actors in parliamentary democracies and definitely one of the most covered by the media (Aarts et al, 2011). Moreover, leaders’ evaluations are central to the vote choice of many citizens in Western democracies, albeit that it is unclear whether this influence has increased over the years (Garzia et al, 2020; Bittner, 2021). Importantly for our argument, recent studies have shown that citizens assess more positively leaders who share their sociodemographic characteristics, such as their age (Sevi, 2021), gender (Dassonneville et al, 2021) and the proximity of their geographical residency (Put, 2021). Citizen–leader congruence in terms of age and geographical residency also translates into greater electoral support for leaders (Put, 2021; Sevi, 2021). To our knowledge, however, only Banducci and Karp (2000) have examined the relationship between women’s voting behaviour and the presence of women leaders. Their results indicate that women were more likely to support a party when the leader was a woman and also evaluated more positively women leaders than their male counterparts. A limit of this study, however, is that only four parties across four countries (Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK) had a woman as a party leader. In the next analyses, we propose to test the robustness of those results across a greater number of countries and parties having a woman as the party leader:

Hypothesis 2: Having a woman party leader influences positively the likelihood of supporting this party among women, and more so than men.

We also propose examining directly one of the mechanisms discussed earlier explaining the link between women’s descriptive representation and women votes, namely, ideological congruence or ideological/proximity voting. This mechanism sees women vote for women candidates (or parties with more women or a woman leader) because they assume that they will better represent their policy preferences (McDermott, 1997; Goodyear-Grant and Croskill, 2011). This mechanism may come in two forms. First, the presence of a woman leader (or many women representatives) may trigger a woman’s consideration that the party/leader is congruent with their preferences. Given their shared experiences and common interests as women, women may be more receptive to the policy positions expressed by a woman leader, making ideological/policy considerations more salient in their vote choice.2 Second, it is possible that women use candidates’/leaders’ gender as a heuristic by which they infer implicitly that female candidates share similar preferences and priorities with them (McDermott, 1997; Cutler, 2002). Here, ideological/policy congruence between women and woman leaders would be the resulting outcome in cases where the gender shortcut is well founded, while ideological/policy proximity is directly part of the decision-making calculus in the first version of the mechanism, being activated by the presence of women representatives or a woman leader.3 As such, we expect the following hypotheses:

Hypothesis 3: Women are more likely to vote for a party close to their ideological preferences than are men as the proportion of elected women in a party increases.

Hypothesis 4: Women are more likely to vote for a party close to their ideological preferences than are men when the party leader is a woman.

Data and main variables

To test the previous hypotheses, we make use of data from the CSES project (Modules 1–4). The CSES represents an interesting data set to test our hypotheses given that it gathers respondents’ answers to the same questions in post-election surveys in several countries around the world. We restrict our analyses to advanced industrial democracies with a (semi-)parliamentary system. The main implication is to exclude the US, where campaigns are much more candidate-centred than in parliamentary systems.4 Overall, the following analyses include 105,900 respondents over 55 elections in 14 countries. The countries include in the study are: Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK (for the list of elections and political parties, see Online Appendix B).5

In the following analyses, respondents’ reported vote choices are used to calculate the different dependent variables of interest. We provide more information on these measures later.6 The CSES data also provide the respondent’s gender, which is crucial for testing our hypotheses (men are coded as 0 and women as 1). The appendix codebook of the CSES also provides the name of each party leader. Based on this information and cross-validation from official sources, we were able to create a dummy variable indicating whether the party leader is a woman (coded as 1) or a man (coded as 0) (Women leader). Based on different official sources, we also coded manually for each party its proportion of elected women at the time of the election (Proportion women).7

Examining same-gender voting among women

To evaluate Hypotheses 1 and 2, we first use a simple empirical strategy that consists in calculating for each party the proportion of women and men, respectively, who voted for the party. We then subtracted the proportion of men having supported the party from the proportion of women. Positive (negative) scores of this differential measure indicate that more (less) women supported the party.8 To be consistent with Hypotheses 1 and 2, we expect parties with more elected women or a woman leader to exhibit more positive scores.

In Table 1, we present the results of ordinary least squares (OLS) regressions in which we regress this dependent variable on Proportion women and Woman leader. The models in Table 1 include country-elections fixed effects to account for unobserved factors at the elections and country levels.9 We also adjust the standard errors for clustering at the party level (there are 104 different political parties).

Table 1:

Examining same-gender voting

12345
Proportion women0.07 (0.02)***0.03 (0.02)0.02 (0.03)
Woman leader2.78 (1.00)***1.99 (0.86)**1.90 (0.88)**
Left party2.74 (0.68)***3.73 (0.78)***3.39 (0.79)***
N275275204204204
R20.0860.1820.0830.2570.264

Notes: Cluster-robust standard errors in parentheses. Country-elections fixed effects not displayed. It should be noted that the number of respondents and elections differs when we analyse the effect of Proportion women and Woman leader given that no woman leaders were in office in some elections. * p < 0.10; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01.

In Table 1, we also control in some of the models for whether the political party is ideologically to the left (coded as 1) or right (coded as 0), as measured based on respondents’ median perceptions. Party positions below 5 were classified as left parties. It is necessary to control for Left parties because there is evidence that women are generally more to the left than men in the countries we are studying (Inglehart and Norris, 2000). Not controlling for this variable could make us conclude that more women representatives in parties is associated with more women support, while this would be the artefact of women (both citizens and politicians) being more to the left on average – and not the result of a same-gender voting mechanism. There is indeed evidence in our data indicating that women voters and representatives are more to the left. Left parties received on average 3 percentage points more votes from women than men, while about 39 per cent of representatives in left parties are women compared to 27 per cent among right parties. Moreover, about 30 per cent of party leaders in left parties are women compared to 16 per cent in parties of the Right. That said, we also believe that controlling for left parties represents a conservative empirical strategy given the endogeneity that characterises the relationship between those parties and women’s support/presence. As mentioned earlier, women representatives also influence the policy priorities that are emphasised by parties and the content of party manifestos. In controlling for the ideological positions of parties, we account for the policy influence that women may have on their party positions, which could also foster women’s support in the electorate. While it is difficult to disentangle this issue here, we present in the following models results both with and without the control for left parties to better understand the role that this variable has on same-gender voting.

The results in Table 1 do not provide strong support for Hypothesis 1 and show that the effect of Proportion women on women support is strongly related to left parties, as just discussed. In Column 1, the impact of Proportion women is positive (0.07) and statistically significant at the 0.01 level, which indicates that as the proportion of women representatives in a party increases, more women vote for the party than do men. This effect disappears, however, when we control for Left party in Column 2 and for Left party and Woman leader in Column 5. On the other hand, the results strongly support Hypothesis 2. The impact of Woman leader is displayed in Columns 3, 4 and 5. In Column 4, we control for Left party, while in Column 5, we control for Left party and Proportion women. On average, having a woman leader increases the support of women by about 2 percentage points compared to men support (p-value < 0.05).

Examining proximity voting among women

Hypotheses 3 and 4 stipulate, respectively, that women are more likely than men to vote for a party close to their ideological preferences as there are more women in a party or is a woman party leader. To test those hypotheses, we need to assess the proportion of proximity voting among men and women and for each party. Building on spatial models of voting behaviours, proximity voting refers to voting for the party that better represents the voter’s preferences (Downs, 1957). This is generally operationalised as voting for the party that is the closest ideologically to a voter (Singh, 2010; Ferland and Dassonneville, 2019). To test Hypotheses 3 and 4, we thus need to locate respondents and parties on a common ideological scale and identify which party is the closest to the voter’s position. The CSES data provide this information with respect to the left–right ideological scale. In each survey, respondents are asked to locate themselves on a 0–10 left–right ideological scale. Importantly, respondents also locate each political party on the same ideological scale. We thus calculate the median party position based on all respondents’ answers – a common and validated approach in the literature (Dalton and McAllister, 2015). For each respondent, we then identified which party is the closest to the respondent’s position and whether the respondent voted for this party. Based on this information, we calculated for each party the proportion of proximity votes among its men and women supporters, respectively, and subtracted the former from the latter. This generates a differential measure indicating whether more women (positive scores) or men (negative scores) cast a proximity vote in the election for a given party.10

We acknowledge that examining proximity voting only on the left–right ideological dimension has some limitations given that new policy issues have become more salient in recent decades (Kriesi et al, 2008). Moreover, the left–right ideological dimension may not capture the ideological/policy dimensions that motivate same-gender voting among women. For now, however, survey data that permit locating the positions of both citizens and parties on several policy dimensions and across many elections and countries are not available. While we recognise this limit, the left–right scale still represents a valid dimension to explore proximity voting and its relationship to same-gender voting. First, many studies indicate that this dimension is still an important determinant of vote choice (Singh, 2010; Jessee, 2012). Second, most of the examples provided earlier with respect to women policy preferences/priorities correspond to the left–right ideological dimension. Indeed, the well-known gender gap in policy preferences refers to, among other things, women (citizens and elites) being generally more to the left than men. Consequently, while scholars would benefit from replicating the following analyses with respect to other policy dimensions, starting with the left–right ideological scale has some support in the literature.

In Table 2, we present the results testing Hypotheses 3 and 4. We use the exact same models as those presented in Table 1 except that the dependent variable is now the difference between the proportion of proximity voting among women and men in each party. The results in Table 2 are similar to those in Table 1. First, the effect of Proportion women is positive, as expected, though not statistically significant at conventional levels. This result does not support Hypothesis 3. The results in Columns 3, 4 and 5 suggest, however, that the presence of a woman leader fosters proximity voting among women compared to their male counterparts. Indeed, having a woman leader increases the proportion of proximity voting among women by about 4 percentage points compared to men (p-value < 0.05). Those results provide strong support for Hypothesis 4 and thus indicate that the presence of a woman leader does help women to vote for a party close to their ideological preferences.

Table 2:

Examining proximity voting

12345
Proportion women0.13 (0.07)*0.07 (0.07)0.14 (0.08)*
Woman leader5.19 (1.75)***4.23 (1.62)**3.69 (1.54)**
Left party4.20 (1.91)**4.69 (1.55)***2.72 (1.64)
N275275201204204
R20.1820.2010.1760.2110.238

Notes: Cluster-robust standard errors in parentheses. Country-elections fixed effects not displayed. It should be noted that the number of respondents and elections differs when we analyse the effect of Proportion women and Woman leader given that no woman leaders were in office in some elections. * p < 0.10; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01.

Robustness checks

The results in Tables 1 and 2 are based on aggregate results. The advantage of this approach lies in its simplicity and the intuitive interpretation of its results. A caveat, however, is that this approach does not directly capture respondents’ motivations. In this section, we replicate the previous results but employ a vote-choice model to address this shortcoming. An issue to consider with this approach relates to the cross-national structure of the data. The challenge is that respondents face different choice sets across countries, which might be problematic for estimating a single model across all country-elections. Our solution is to follow a two-stage procedure: in a first stage, we estimate a vote-choice model separately for each country-election, save our quantities of interest (more on that later); then, in a second stage, we examine the impact of our independent variables (Proportion women and Woman leader) on those estimates. Importantly, the two-stage procedure allows researchers to make inferences about individual behaviours (for a technical discussion, see Lewis and Linzer, 2005); for an application, see De Vries et al, 2011).11

Same-gender voting

To validate the results with respect to same-gender voting among women, we first estimated a series of multinomial logistic regressions for each country-election separately (55 in total). In each regression, the dependent variable is categorical and indicates which party the respondent voted for at the election. Multinomial logistic regression is a standard model when researchers are interested in assessing the effect of individual-specific factors on vote choice (Alvarez and Nagler, 1998). In each model, we only included basic sociodemographic predictors of vote choice: gender, age, level of education and income. It should be noted that we did not control for respondents’ attitudes, party identification or policy preferences. Based on the logic of the block-recursive model of voting behaviours (Miller and Shanks, 1996), sociodemographic factors have causal precedence over attitudinal factors when predicting vote choice and should thus be estimated separately.12 For each country-election regression, we recorded the average marginal effect (AME) of being a woman on the likelihood of voting for each party. A positive (negative) AME indicates that women are more (less) likely to support a party.

In a second stage, we use those estimates as the dependent variable and regress them on our party-level predictors of interest (that is, Proportion women and Woman leader). The OLS results are displayed in Table 3. As for the results displayed in Tables 1 and 2, all models include country-elections fixed effects and cluster-robust standard errors for parties. It should be noted that this last adjustment also accounts for the heteroscedasticity possibly generated by the two-stage procedure (Lewis and Linzer, 2005). The results in Table 3 confirm our previous conclusions. The proportion of women elected in a party does not affect much same-gender voting among women – at least when controlling for left parties – while the presence of a woman leader influences positively women’s likelihood of voting for a party (consistent with Hypothesis 2). In particular, across the 55 elections under study, women’s probability of supporting a party is about 2 percentage points greater when the party has a woman as a leader instead of a man.

Table 3:

Examining same-gender voting (two-stage procedure)

12345
Proportion women0.08 (0.03)***0.04 (0.02)*0.03 (0.03)
Woman leader2.92 (1.12)**2.20 (1.01)**2.08 (1.02)**
Left party2.35 (0.68)***3.55 (0.79)***3.11 (0.77)***
N275275204204204
R20.0880.1520.0870.2320.241

Notes: Cluster-robust standard errors in parentheses. Country-elections fixed effects not displayed. It should be noted that the number of respondents and elections differs when we analyse the effect of Proportion women and Woman leader given that no woman leaders were in office in some elections. * p < 0.10; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01.

Proximity voting

We also follow the two-stage procedure to validate Hypotheses 3 and 4. Multinomial logistic regressions are well suited for estimating the effects of individual-specific factors on vote choice but are less convenient when considering party-specific factors. Alvarez and Nagler (1998) recommend using a conditional logistic model instead when studying the impacts of factors that relate to party characteristics relative to voters. This is the case in our model, where the ideological distance (that is, whether a party is the closest) between a voter and each party varies. In the following, we present the specification that we used in the first stage in each country-election. The specification is developed for a situation where voters have the choice between two parties but is expanded accordingly as more choices become available to voters13:
M1

Here, i indicates the individual and j the alternative (Party 1 and Party 2). Overall, the model includes a dummy variable for each party (there is only one dummy variable in the equation since there are two parties) and a series of interactions with Proximity and Woman. Proximity is a dummy variable identifying whether a party is the closest to a voter on the 0–10 left–right ideological scale.14 Woman is a dummy variable identifying whether the respondent is a woman (coded as 1) or a man (coded as 0). It should be noted that Woman is only included in the model through its interaction with Proximity since the individual fixed effects capture by design the effect of Woman (Andreass et al, 2013).

In the model specification, β1 indicates the effect of Proximity for men with respect to Party 1, while β2 captures the interaction between Proximity and Woman, and indicates by how much the effect of Proximity with respect to Party 1 is greater or smaller for women compared to men. To get the corresponding information for Party 2, we need to add up different coefficients. For Party 2, the effect of Proximity for men is given by the sum of β1 and β4, while the addition of β2 and β5 indicates whether the effect of Proximity for women is greater or smaller than for men. Overall, we estimated this specification separately for the 55 elections, adjusting each model accordingly with the number of parties available to voters.15 After each estimation, we recorded the average marginal effect of Woman * Proximity associated with each party. The AME indicates whether the impact of Proximity for a given party is greater among women (positive AME) or men (negative AME).

In the second stage, we regress those AMEs on Proportion women, Woman leader and Left party stepwise, as in previous tables. The same adjustments in terms of country-elections fixed effects and cluster-robust standard errors are implemented. The results are displayed in Table 4 and are similar to the findings presented in Table 2. Both the effects of Proportion women and Woman leader are in the expected direction (positive) and statistically significant (at the 0.05 and 0.1 levels, respectively) in Columns 1 and 3, and Proportion women loses its statistical significance when controlling for Left party in Column 2. These results are very similar to previous findings.

Table 4:

Examining proximity voting (two-stage procedure)

12345
Proportion women0.12 (0.05)**0.09 (0.06)0.11 (0.08)
Woman leader3.21 (1.76)*2.88 (1.68)*2.49 (1.70)
Left party2.49 (2.01)1.68 (1.85)0.50 (2.21)
N256256184184184
R20.1780.1860.1690.1740.193

Notes: Cluster-robust standard errors in parentheses. Country-elections fixed effects not displayed. It should be noted that the number of respondents and elections differs when we analyse the effect of Proportion women and Woman leader given that no woman leaders were in office in some elections. * p < 0.10; ** p < 0.05; *** p < 0.01.

A difference, however, with the results reported in Table 2 is that Woman leader is not statistically significant in the full model of Column 5, with a p-value of 0.147. One reason that might explain this difference relates to the two-stage procedure, which introduces uncertainty in the estimates of the AME. Instead of using the true AME, we use estimates of them, which therefore decreases the precision of our coefficients (that is, the standard errors of the coefficients are larger, and this makes it more difficult to reach conventional levels of statistical significance).

Another reason that might explain the (small) discrepancy relates to the previously discussed two mechanisms that may motivate the relationship between proximity voting and same-gender voting among women (that is, ‘rational’ proximity voting and the heuristic process). The results in Table 4 do not capture the heuristic mechanism, but indicate whether the presence of a woman leader motivates women to cast a proximity vote. The coefficients of Woman leader in Table 4, which are barely or only close to statistical significance, suggest that this seems to be the case but only for some women. Table 2, however, captures both mechanisms because it only indicates the resulting consequence of voting for a party with a woman leader (that is, whether the closest party is chosen simultaneously). Interestingly, the joint interpretation of Tables 2 and 4 suggests that both decision-making processes are at work but that the heuristic process may be driving the relationship given the weaker results reported in Table 4. This remains a tentative explanation since we did not empirically disentangle each mechanism. This investigation would be important to undertake in future studies in order to parse out each decision-making process.16

Discussion

The first objective of the article was to examine whether the proportion of elected women in parties and the presence of women party leaders motivate women’s votes. While scholars have generally analysed same-gender voting in terms of women supporting a woman candidate, we argued that this approach was too restrictive. Instead, we assumed that a party with a woman leader or many women representatives could also motivate women to support it. Our results mostly confirm these expectations, especially with respect to the role of women leaders in same-gender voting. Our results thus support the similar findings of Banducci and Karp (2000). Taken together, these results provide strong support for the claim that women are more likely to support a party with a woman leader.

On the other hand, the effect of women representatives on same-gender voting among women is mixed. This result is maybe the consequence of a lack of citizens’ knowledge of representatives’ characteristics. Indeed, for the proportion of elected women in parties to motivate women’s votes, women must know which parties have more or less women representatives. The effect of women representatives, however, seems closely related to the effect of left parties. Indeed, the effect of the proportion of women in parties was positive and statistically significant when estimated alone but became not statistically significant when controlling for whether a party was left- or right-wing. On the one hand, this might suggest that party ideology is a confounder factor in the relationship between women representatives and same-gender voting. On the other hand, women representatives may influence the policy positions of parties, which could also motivate same-gender voting among women. Future studies might consider this endogeneity to better understand how these factors interact and foster gender-affinity voting among women.

Our second objective was to consider one of the mechanisms that could motivate same-gender voting. Indeed, a reason why women might prefer to support women politicians rather than men could be due to a better correspondence between their policy preferences. We examined this possibility in terms of proximity voting among voters, which is the act of voting for the party closest to one’s ideological position. Our results indicate that the presence of a woman leader helps women to support parties that are closer to their positions, and more so than men. To our knowledge, this relationship between women’s descriptive representation and proximity voting has never been empirically demonstrated in previous studies. We believe, however, that future research is necessary to disentangle the two decision-making processes that may explain this mechanism.

Future studies may also consider the role of electoral rules in the relationships we investigated. In particular, ballot structure and district magnitude may condition whether women candidates or leaders would benefit from same-gender voting among women. For example, women in single-member district systems who want to support a woman candidate or leader need to balance the winning chance of each when candidate–leader gender does not align in parties. For example, should a woman support a woman candidate from a party with a man party leader or a man candidate from a party with a woman party leader? A similar deliberation could occur under closed party lists in terms of supporting a list with many women but a man leader versus a list with many men but a woman leader. The decision-making process is probably easier in open-list PR electoral systems, especially those allowing panachage, where voters can favour women candidates and a woman leader at the same time. However, the fact that women are generally more represented in PR electoral systems – compared to single-member district systems – may diminish women’s incentives to support women candidates, thus giving more importance to same-gender voting for women leaders. These are all plausible possibilities that merit being thoroughly considered in future research to better understand how same-gender voting for candidates and leaders might differ across electoral rules.

In the end, we believe our results have important implications for women’s representation. First, our findings show that same-gender voting among women could foster women’s descriptive representation through helping the election of a party with a woman leader (and possibly many women representatives). Political institutions are important determinants of women’s descriptive representation, but our results indicate that women’s voting behaviour may also help. This better women’s descriptive representation is consequential for the substantive representation of women’s preferences and interests (Phillips, 1998). Second, our results indicate that same-gender voting helps women’s substantive representation in another way as well. Indeed, in voting for parties with a woman leader (and possibly more women representatives), there is evidence that women support parties that better reflect their policy preferences (Ferland, 2020). Importantly, this greater congruence between women and parties ensures that women will have parties that will champion their interests in the democratic process.

Notes

1

The data we use in the following analyses allow us to partly validate this assumption with respect to party leaders. In Modules 3 and 4 of the CSES project, when respondents are asked to evaluate each party leader, they are explicitly given the option to indicate that they ‘never heard of’ or ‘do not know enough’ about a leader. On average, only 8 per cent of the respondents answered the latter. This could be compared, though imperfectly, to the 45–50 per cent of respondents who are unable to recall at least one correct candidate name in their electoral district (Holmberg, 2009; Van Coppenolle, 2017). Unfortunately, we did not find any data sets or studies that examine citizens’ knowledge of representatives’ characteristics as a group (such as the proportion of women representatives in a party). Given that elected representatives receive much more media coverage in parliamentary democracies than candidates in between elections, we assume that citizens may also come to develop perceptions about which parties have more or less women representatives in general.

2

In this logic, other considerations, such as the economy or government satisfaction, would have been more important for explaining women’s vote choice if the party leader was a man – making ideological voting less significant. Moreover, we do not assume that women necessarily change their ideological positions accordingly with the woman leader’s position, but acknowledge that this could be the case for some women.

3

While one might assume that women on the Left would be more inclined to ideological/proximity voting for left parties with many women representatives or a woman leader, we believe that the mechanism also prevails among women on the Right. For example, women Conservative supporters are to the left of their men counterparts in the UK (Campbell and Childs, 2015). This could therefore make them perceive a woman leader like Theresa May and the Conservative Party as better representing their preferences and influencing accordingly their voting calculus (unfortunately, we do not have the data covering May’s leadership to verify this claim). Similarly, Greene and O’Brien (2016) showed that the presence of women in parties increases the diversity of issues addressed by parties and pushes party manifestoes to the left – regardless of the initial party position. We believe that women on the Right will be more receptive to those changes in policy positions and issue salience than men on the Right.

4

It should be noted that we keep Iceland given that the role of the president has been mostly symbolic for the period under study. We also keep Switzerland because elections are party centred as in parliamentary systems.

5

Supplementary material for this article is available at: https://doi.org/10.1332/251510822X16455561289679

6

It should be noted that in cases of mixed-member electoral systems, we take the vote for the party list.

7

This is based on the proportion of elected women the party has after the last election.

8

The average of the dependent variable across parties is 0.04 per cent (negative and positive scores cancel out), with a standard deviation of 3.80 and minimum and maximum values of –12.88 and 13.82, respectively. To give more perspective in terms of the distribution of the scores, 25 per cent of the observations have a score greater than 2.2 (more women votes) and smaller than –1.8 (more men votes), respectively.

9

It should be noted that our results are substantively the same when we replicate our models without fixed effects and control instead for the electoral system and the proportion of women in parliament (see Tables A4–A7 in the Online Appendix).

10

The average is –1.66, with a standard deviation of 13.35.

11

It should be noted that some scholars prefer estimating a pooled model when investigating similar questions (Put 2021; Sevi 2021). Our results are substantively the same with this alternative strategy (see Online Appendix A and Tables A2–A3 in the Online Appendix). Similarly, Duch and Stevenson (2005) also demonstrated the equivalence of the pooled and two-stage procedures in the context of economic voting.

12

It should be noted, however, that the results are substantively the same when we do control for respondents’ left–right ideological position (see Table A1 in the Online Appendix).

13

The data need to be stacked to get several observations for each respondent-party dyad.

14

A voter may have more than one party as the closest.

15

It should be noted that the number of observations in Table 4 is smaller than in previous tables because we dropped very small parties (less than 1 per cent of the vote or seat share) in some cases to make the conditional logistic regression converge.

16

This could presumably be done by accounting for the effect of political sophistication on voters’ likelihood of casting a proximity vote (see, for example, Jessee, 2012) since less sophisticated voters are generally more prone to use heuristics (Lau and Redlawsk, 2001). Alternatively, researchers could also design an experiment and manipulate the amount of policy information associated with each woman leader, thereby influencing the possibility of ‘rational’ proximity voting.

17

Party families are those reported in the CSES dataset.

18

The number of respondents differs when we analyze the effect of proportion women and woman leader given that no woman leaders were in office in some elections. Note that we did not control for proportion women and woman leader in a final model as we did in the main text given that it would necessitate a quadruple interaction effect between women, woman leader, proportion women, and proximity which makes the interpretation of the effects quite cumbersome.

Funding

This work was supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada under Grant #430-2018-00754.

Conflict of interest

The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.

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  • Dalton, R.J. and McAllister, I. (2015) Random walk or planned excursion? Continuity and change in the left–right positions of political parties, Comparative Political Studies, 48(6): 75987. doi: 10.1177/0010414014558257

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  • Dassonneville, R., Quinlan, S. and McAllister, I. (2021) Female leader popularity and the vote, 1996–2016: a global explanatory analysis, European Journal of Politics and Gender, 4(3): 34159. doi: 10.1332/251510820X16073612895666

    • Search Google Scholar
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  • De Vries, C.E., van der Brug, W., van Egmond, M.H. and van der Eijk, C. (2011) Individual and contextual variation in EU issue voting: the role of political information, Electoral Studies, 30. doi: 10.1016/j.electstud.2010.09.022

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    • Export Citation
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    • Export Citation
  • Dolan, K. (2004) Voting for Women: How the Public Evaluates Women Candidates, Oxford: Westview Press.

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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
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    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Garzia, D., Ferreira da Silva, F. and De Angelis, A. (2020) Partisan dealignment and the personalisation of politics in West European parliamentary democracies, 1961–2018, West European Politics, 124.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Gidengil, E. (1995) Economic man, social woman: the case of the gender gap in support of the Canada–United States free-trade agreement, Comparative Political Studies, 23(3): 384408. doi: 10.1177/0010414095028003003

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Giger, N., Holli, A.M., Lefkofridi, Z. and Wass, H. (2014) The gender gap in Same- gender voting: the role of context, Electoral Studies, 35: 30314. doi: 10.1016/j.electstud.2014.02.009

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Golder, S.N., Stephenson, L.B., Van der Straeten, K., Blais, A., Bol, D., Harfst, P. and Laslier, J.F. (2017) Votes for women: electoral systems and support for female candidates, Politics & Gender, 13: 10731.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Goodyear-Grant, E. and Croskill, J. (2011) Gender affinity effects in vote choice in Westminster systems: assessing flexible voters in Canada, Politics & Gender, 7: 22350.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Greene, Z. and O’Brien, D.Z. (2016) Diverse parties, diverse agendas? Female politicians and the parliamentary party’s role in platform formation, European Journal of Political Research, 55: 43553. doi: 10.1111/1475-6765.12141

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holli, A.M. and Wass, H. (2010) Gender-based voting in the parliamentary elections of 2007 in Finland, European Journal of Political Research, 49(5): 598630. doi: 10.1111/j.1475-6765.2009.01910.x

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Holmberg, S. (2009) Candidate recognition in different electoral systems, in H-D. Klingemann (ed), The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems, Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Inglehart, R. and Norris, P. (2000) The developmental theory of the gender gap: women’s and men’s voting behaviour in global perspective, International Political Science Review, 21(4): 44163. doi: 10.1177/0192512100214007

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jessee, S.A. (2012) Ideology and Spatial Voting in American Elections, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  • Karp, J.A. and Banducci, S.A. (2008) When politics is not just a man’s game: women’s representation and political engagement, Electoral Studies, 27: 10515. doi: 10.1016/j.electstud.2007.11.009

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kittilson, M.C. (2011) Women, parties and platforms in Post-industrial democracies, Political Parties, 17(1): 6692. doi: 10.1177/1354068809361012

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Kriesi, H., Grande, E., Frey, T., Lachat, R., Dolezal, M. and Bornschier, S. (2008) West European Politics in the Age of Globalization, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lau, R.L. and Redlawsk, D.P. (2001) Advantages and disadvantages of cognitive heuristics in political decision making, American Journal of Political Science, 45(4): 95171. doi: 10.2307/2669334

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lawless, J. and Person, K. (2008) The primary reason for women’s underrepresentation? Reevaluating the conventional wisdom, The Journal of Politics, 70(1): 6782. doi: 10.1017/S002238160708005X

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lewis, J.B. and Linzer, D.A. (2005) Estimating regression models in which the dependent variable is based on estimates, Political Analysis, 13(4). doi: 10.1093/pan/mpi026

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Lovenduski, J. and Norris, P. (2003) Westminster women: the politics of presence, Political Studies, 51(1): 84102. doi: 10.1111/1467-9248.00414

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • McDermott, M. (1997) Voting cues in low-information elections: candidate gender as a social information variable in contemporary United States elections, American Journal of Political Science, 41(1): 27083. doi: 10.2307/2111716

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  • 1 University of Ottawa, , Canada

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