With the UK general election well under way, we’re in the midst of a concerted bout of electioneering, as all of the main parties court our vote ahead of the polls next month. While many of them will talk about their economic or social policies, a recent study suggests that a more effective strategy might be for a party to simply include more female candidates on their ballot.
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The study looked at recent political trends in Spain, where a recent law mandated that a minimum of 40 percent of candidates from any party be women. The analysis found that when the proportion of women on the ballot increased by 10 percent, that party received a 4.2 percent boost in the number of votes they gained from the electorate.
"When you force a party to field more women, they gain votes," the authors say.
Women in Politics
Of course, in many countries there is anything but a preponderance of women in politics, and the authors believe that their finding strikes an important blow against one of the core arguments against measures to help redress that balance. Mainly that voters tend to prefer male candidates, but also that there is often a lack of sufficiently qualified female candidates available to parties.
"We [believe] that it’s not really about voters," they say. "It’s about internal dynamics of the parties. There’s some elbowing out going on that leaves women behind."
The focus of the study was the equality law introduced in Spain by the Social Democratic Party after their 2004 election win. The law required 40 percent of candidates in any local election to be women, with the law being put into effect during the 2007 local elections in the country.
The authors suggest that the speed with which the law was enacted lays waste to the claim that there are insufficient candidates in the pipeline, with those elections in 2007 highlighting the apparently poor quality available. This didn’t happen, however, with parties that had more women seeing an 8 percent rise in the votes they received.
Of course, some of the more enlightened parties in Spain were already over the new 40 percent threshold, so the researchers used towns that were largely unaffected by the new quota as their control group. While parties in these areas still saw a 4.2 percent rise in votes if they had more women candidates.
"If a party were optimizing, they couldn’t do better if they fielded more females," the paper reveals. "What we find is the opposite."
What’s more, in addition to greater female representation securing more votes, the study also found that there was no drop-off in voter turnout, so there was no possibility of bias in the data.
So, would the findings be similarly bold in other locations? It’s a pretty good prospect, not least because of the rigour of the study. With nearly 5,000 local elections studied, the sample is extensive.
"These results are not consistent with the existence of major voter aversion to female candidates," the researchers conclude.
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The authors hope to further explore this topic to ensure that more women find their way into politics. The message appears clear, however. Whether you’re Conservative or Labour, Lib Dem or UKIP, if you want to win, you should field more women candidates.
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