In a forthcoming article on the relationship between candidate gender and electoral success in the British Journal of Political Science, Schwindt-Bayer, Malecki, and Crisp look at how gender affects candidate performance in three contexts where PR-STV systems are employed: the lower houses of Malta and Ireland, and the Australian Senate.
A useful aspect of their research is that it separates the nomination of candidates from their performance; they examine whether ‘once a prospective candidate has decided to enter a race, does the candidate’s gender systematically work against (or for) her?’ (p. 1). They hold an array of individual, party, and constituency-level variables constant in their analysis – including incumbency, electoral experience, and previous party performance in a constituency.
Their findings suggest that PR-STV does not always disadvantage women: in Malta there was no discernible negative or positive relationship between gender and electoral performance, and in Australian Senate races they found that female candidates do slightly better than male candidates. However in Irish elections female candidates receive, on average, 2% fewer first preference votes than their male counterparts. Furthermore, female candidates in Ireland get less of a point bump in vote share for levels of electoral experience or incumbency than male candidates. The authors state that: ‘in Ireland, we found that voters discriminate against women, controlling for all else’ (p.11).
Overall, the effects of voter discrimination on female representation are certainly not as dramatic as the problem of under-nomination. In a context where women have never represented more than 20% of nominated candidates, and where the number of female candidates has actually fallen since the ‘high point’ of nearly 20% in 1997, attention has rightly been focused on increasing the number of nominated female candidates.
The findings are nonetheless rather suggestive – the implication is that PR-STV per se is neither encouraging nor inhibiting of female representation. However,PR-STV may be somewhat inhibitive (compared to, for example, closed lists) for female representation in Ireland where, for whatever reason, female candidates appear to systematically receive fewer votes than their male counterparts.