‘Why Aren’t They There?’ A Study of Political Representation

2013. ECPR Press. ·

It’s been in the works for a long time, but I have the pleasure to announce the publication of my monograph.


Why Aren’t They There? is a comprehensive study of political representation in a cross-national format. It examines the representation of women, ethnic groups, and policy positions in a cross-country comparison.

The book includes an analysis of the representation of women over time, and presents a critical view of the effectiveness of quotas. Using new data on ethnic groups in legislatures, the book is a significant step forward in the analysis of political representation. The representation of issue positions is examined in eight policy domains. The systematic approach of the book allows a ground-breaking examination of how different forms of representation – women, ethnic groups, issue positions – are interlinked.

It examines aspects that are unattainable in studies focusing on only a single form of representation. This results in a comprehensive understanding of political representation, and leads to important and policy-relevant insights for electoral engineering.

Link to ECPR Press | Table of Contents | Sample Chapter

Quotas in Costa Rica

National legislature differ in the extent to which they include women. For many reasons it is desirable to have inclusive legislatures, and quotas are one means to increase the proportion of women in legislatures. Are they effective? Pamela Paxton, Melanie Hughes and Matthew Painter included the example of Costa Rica in their EJPR article.

The example is useful to illustrate that just requiring parties to have 40% women on their lists does not make a big difference. Parties can comply with this rule while placing most of the women at the bottom of the list, resulting in few (if any) more women elected to the legislature. Costa Rica later introduced placement mandates, making the quota law much more effective.

Costa Rica

Here I replicate (and extend) their figure 1. I have used the latest figures from the IPU, which differ slightly for 1994 and 2002 (red dots = data cited in article). We can see that there was stagnation after the increase associated with the placement mandates. As far as I can tell, this is typical. My take on this is that attitudes need to catch up before we see further increases (dashed line, assuming a gradual change over time). Indeed, the quotas possibly were made possible by the low proportion of women in legislature lagging attitudes on what the population deems desirable. A big question is whether these additional women in the legislature have an impact on policy and the lives of ordinary women (and men) beyond what attitudes in society suggest.

Paxton, P., M. Hughes, and M. Painter. 2010. ‘Growth in women’s political representation: A longitudinal exploration of democracy, electoral system and gender quotas’. European Journal of Political Research 49(1):25–52.

Women in Claims-Making

In the project SOM we use a large media analysis to examine claims-making in the news. I looked at the gender aspect. Since the original data does not record the gender of the claimant, I used the first name of the 200 most common first names and manually assigned the gender.

This gives me 531 claims by women (16%), and 2729 claims by men (84%).

I find significant differences across countries in the proportion of claims made by women (as opposed to men):

Women 23.5% 9.4% 17.2% 24.7% 18.5% 16.9% 5.55%
Men 76.5% 90.6% 82.8% 75.3% 81.5% 83.1% 94.5%

My initial thought was that these differences are just another reflection of the different levels of descriptive representation. This isn’t the case, though (r=0.08):

I also looked at the frames used in political claims; men tend to use identity frames a bit more often, women moral arguments more often and instrumental frames. Instrumental frames are dominant for men and women.

How Matland’s Party Magnitude Works

In his 1993 paper, Richard Matland argues that party magnitude — the district magnitude divided by the number of parties — is causally closer to levels of political representation than the underlying district magnitude. The concept of party magnitude is used from time to time in the literature, but usually little attention is paid as to how it works.

In addition to the effects of district magnitude, assuming that men are more likely to take the top spot of party lists than women are, where there are fewer parties competing, the likelihood that a woman is elected is increased by reaching further down the party list. Combining the two effects, it is also apparent why, as Matland acknowledges, the effects of party magnitude are temporarily limited. The association is weak where the proportion of women in parliament is low. In this case the likelihood of that a woman is elected is low in any case. As the proportion of women in parliament increases, so does the association. Once women are as common as candidates as men are, and they are equally likely to appear at the top of party lists, the association once again decreases. The likelihood that a woman is elected in this case approaches 50%.

Matland, R. (1993). Institutional variables affecting female representation in national legislatures: The case of Norway. Journal of Politics, 55, 737-55.

Representation of Women in National Legislatures

After a considerable time as an on-line paper, my article on the political representation of women in national legislatures finally appeared in print. I use a large cross-national sample of all free and partly-free countries (according to Freedom House). Like some recent contributions, I find that attitudes toward women as political leaders are a powerful predictor for the share of women in the national legislature. This link was already established by Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart, amongst others, but in this article I also consider the role of gender quotas. Once controlling for regional or cultural/attitudinal differences, voluntary party quotas and legislative quotas do not appear to be significant. Obviously there are often implementation issues, but we need to think more carefully about the underlying mechanisms: I argue that cultural variables are probably behind both the share of women in legislatures and the (successful) implementation of quotas.

Norris, P., and R. Inglehart. 2001. “Cultural obstacles to equal representation.” Journal of Democracy 12(3): 126–40.