Electoral Systems and the Substantive Representation of Marginalized Groups: Evidence from Women’s Issue Bills in South Korea

Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211028290
How electoral institutions incentivize substantive repre-
sentation is a crucial question for democratic governance,
particularly for traditionally underrepresented groups.
This article examines the extent to which proportional
representation (PR) and single-member districts (SMDs)
encourage lawmakers to pursue legislation on behalf of
women, a historically marginalized constituency in most
developed democracies. We show that electoral system
conditions the relationship between legislator gender and
the representation of women, affecting the sponsorship
and passage of women’s issue bills introduced by legisla-
tors of both genders.
Theories of legislative institutions suggest that SMDs
encourage representation of the district median voter, result-
ing in lawmakers converging on majority-oriented policy
positions, at both the district and national levels (Ansolabehere
and Jones 2010; Carson et al. 2010). Members elected
through PR, seeking to be responsive to the party organiza-
tion and its leadership, and free from needing to appeal
exclusively to the median, better represent marginalized
groups (Blais and Massicotte 2002; Jones et al. 2002;
Shugart, Valdini, and Suominen 2005). We extend these
theories to the study of gender representation. While previ-
ous examinations of the link between electoral systems and
gender politics have focused exclusively on women or on
specific legislative activities such as bill sponsorship (Caul
Kittelson and Schwindt-Bayer 2012; Höhmann 2020; H. O.
Jeong 2019; M. Jeong and Lee 2020; Y.-I. Lee 2019; Matland
and Studlar 1996; Shim 2021; Thames 2017), our theory and
data allow for a comparison of both bill sponsorship and pas-
sage activities across gender and electoral system. This
approach allows us to understand the conditions in which
electoral systems incentivize not only women but also men to
support women’s issue bills and bring about favorable policy
Using machine learning to classify legislative topic
areas, we develop a new dataset of bill introductions in
the Korean National Assembly from 2004 through 2016
to compare the legislative behavior of women and men
elected under each of the country’s electoral systems.
1028290PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211028290Political Research QuarterlyKweon and Ryan
1 Department of Political Science and Diplomacy, Sungkyunkwan
University, Seoul, South Korea
2Utah State University, Logan, USA
Corresponding Author:
Josh M. Ryan, Department of Political Science, Utah State University,
0725 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322, USA.
Email: josh.ryan@usu.edu
Electoral Systems and the Substantive
Representation of Marginalized
Groups: Evidence from Women’s
Issue Bills in South Korea
Yesola Kweon1 and Josh M. Ryan2
How do electoral rules shape the substantive representation of traditionally underrepresented groups? Using an
original dataset of introduced and passed bills in the Korean National Assembly, which has both single-member
districts and proportional representation, we examine the extent to which institutions condition the relationship
between lawmaker gender and the substantive representation of women. While women lawmakers engage in higher
levels of substantive representation of women, proportional representation allows both women and men to introduce
more women’s issue bills than their counterparts elected through single-member districts. Furthermore, legislators
elected through proportional representation are more effective at achieving passage of women’s issue legislation
when compared with those elected in single-member districts, and this effect is especially pronounced for men. Our
findings show that electoral systems matter for the representation of marginalized groups and that proportional
representation systems allow both female and male politicians to increase their substantive representation of women.
electoral rules, single-member representation, proportional representation, women’s representation, legislative
productivity, comparative institutions
2022, Vol. 75(4) 1065–1078

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