Science says women political candidates really do attract more votes in elections

Hillary Clinton. Andrew Burton/Getty Images

A simple way to improve a political party’s chances at the ballot box is to have more women as candidates, according to a study by economists.

The research analyses changes to municipal election laws in Spain which a decade ago began requiring political parties to have women fill at least 40% of positions on their electoral lists.

And the study found that those parties which increased their share of female candidates by 10 percentage points more than their opponents enjoyed a 4.2% percentage point gain at the ballot box. That’s an outright switch of about 20 votes per 1,000 cast.

“When you force a party to field more women, they gain votes,” says Albert Saiz, the Daniel Rose Professor of Urban Economics and Real Estate at MIT’s Department of Urban Studies and Planning.

Saiz believes the study strikes a blow against common misconceptions that voters simply prefer voting for men or that not enough high-quality female candidates are available.

Voters will support women and there are plenty of good female candidates but women do not appear on ballots as frequently as men because of internal party politics.

“We [believe] that it’s not really about voters,” Saiz says. “It’s about internal dynamics of the parties. There’s some elbowing out going on that leaves women behind.”

The research, “Women and Power: Unpopular, Unwilling, or Held Back?”, is being published by the Journal of Political Economy. It is co-authored by Saiz and Pablo Casas-Arce, an assistant professor of economics at Arizona State University.

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