Different uses for voting
need different types of voting.
PR and Women
Why Proportional Representation Elects Women
The first questions many people ask are, “Why does Proportional Representation elect more women?” or, “How much do they affect policies?”
Proportional Representation elects several reps in a district. So each party offers several nominees to the voters. An all-male slate or party list would look totally sexist; so parties nominate some women. In contrast, one man nominated in each single-winner district does not look as sexist.
(A party's list also may reveal its ethnic or religious bias; and Fair-share Spending can reveal a party’s budget priorities.)
In a multi-winner race, a woman often is not seen as running against a man or an incumbent. She is more likely to be seen as running for her issues and policies.
Women in some Proportional Representation countries considered starting their own parties. Under plurality rules, new parties divide a side and lead to certain defeat. But PR promptly gives seats to a new party, if a big group of voters support it.
This credible threat made some parties decide that job experience was not as important as gender balance. They dropped some experienced men to make more room for women on the party list. And they won. Now the women are incumbents with experience, power and allies.
Many countries elect more women now than they did 10 or 20 years ago. But the relative positions of countries change little — unless a country changes its voting rule as New Zealand did in 1996.
Election Rules and Policy Results
The data below makes it clear: advocates for education, health care, a clean environment or a clean government should all work for better voting rules.
When we work to ease urgent needs, we often overlook the essential needs, the roots of those problems. At the root, we often get poor policies, due to poor representation, due to poor election laws.
The link between voting rules and quality of life is clear in data from nations. It's likely true for cities too, and for other democratic groups. Consequences: Legislatures with fewer women tend to give less attention, priority and funding to health care, child care, education, and other social needs. Run-down schools and city hospitals are one blight; a class of citizens with inferior education and health are another.
* New Zealand and Germany elect half their MPs by Proportional Representation, and half in Single-Winner Districts. The SWDs elect few women; but in the same election, the party-list rule elects three times as many women.
Data Definitions and Sources:
Women %, For a bicameral legislature, numbers are from the lower house. Inter-Parliamentary Union.
Health Rank, by the World Health Organization.
Math Score, A higher number is better on this HS test. Program for International Student Assessment, OECD.
Poverty % of children below half of median income; OECD.
Murder Rate, murders per million. Seventh United Nations Survey of Crime Trends.
|A good country to look at is Australia. Its lower house has 26% women, 37 of 150 seats in the 41st parliament, 40 of 150 seats in the 42nd parliament. That is a higher share for women than any other house elected from Single-Winner Districts. They are elected by STV in single winner districts -- a voting rule which the Australians and British call “Alternative Vote” and Americans call “Instant Runoff”. As those names imply it 1) lets a voter rank many candidates and 2) combines the primary and general elections so there are often more than 2 important candidates; this encourages voter participation; turnout in Australia is about 90%. (Voting, like taxes and jury duty, is mandatory.)
Australia’s upper chamber is elected by multi-winner STV. Each province returns 6 senators. This filled 35% of the seats with women after the November 2007 election, 27 of 76 seats. The women's share of seats might be even higher if there were more than 6 seats in each district, but 35% compares well with elections in other countries -- and more seats in each district could attract more candidates making the preference ballots longer, more difficult for voters.
Ireland elects fewer women than other PR countries partly because it elects fewer reps in each district — it is closer to using single-winner districts.
Of course, voter turnout and representation by women are influenced by variables other than voting rules:
Culture: The electoral success of women is influenced by the quality of education for women and by gender prejudices, often based in religion.
Latitude: The accuracy of democracy seems to correlate with distance from the Equator -- even within a cultural region such as Europe or within a large country such as the USA. As with any statistical tendency there are exceptions, for example Costa Rica is notably more democratic than its neighbors.
Some of this may be due to the temperate zone's high food production and low incidence of infectious disease which combine to help education and wealth. (What does global warming forecast for democracy in the 21st Century?)
But culture or latitude cannot explain why PR elects more women than plurality rule does in the same country. Germans elect half of their reps from single-winner districts and the other half from party-list PR. Women win only a tenth of the single-winner seats but they win one-third of the list-PR seats. We see same pattern in New Zealand and other countries.
|Older data: Voter turnout and seats for woman vary from year to year in each country. But PR countries always hold the top spots and winner-take-all countries do poorly. Another page has older data on voter turnout and electing women.