Parties, Candidates, and Gendered Political Recruitment in Closed-List Proportional Representation Systems: The Case of Spain

Published date01 December 2019
Date01 December 2019
Subject MatterArticles
807086PRQXXX10.1177/1065912918807086Political Research QuarterlyVerge and Wiesehomeier
Political Research Quarterly
2019, Vol. 72(4) 805 –820
Parties, Candidates, and Gendered
© 2018 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
Political Recruitment in Closed-List
DOI: 10.1177/1065912918807086
Proportional Representation Systems:
The Case of Spain
Tània Verge1 and Nina Wiesehomeier2
Throughout the world, the number of women elected to legislatures has risen dramatically. Most of the quantitative
research explaining party, district, or national differences has focused on the aggregate rather than the candidate
level thereby overlooking women’s access to party ballots. In examining both the election and selection stages, we
focus on Spain, a closed-list proportional representation system where parties have tight control over their ballots
and the election of candidates is largely a function of rank orders on the ballot. In this South European democracy
women’s representation in the national parliament has experienced an incremental track, reaching 39 percent in
2016. Party differences in gender outcomes and policies promoting equal gender representation did not vanish once
a legislated quota was introduced in 2007. The empirical analysis builds on an original set of candidate longitudinal
data covering nine elections held between 1986 and 2016. Specifically, we test how party and candidate factors
differentially affect the selection of men and women to party ballots and their likelihood of getting elected. We show
that strategic discrimination against female candidates affects all parties and it happens irrespective of candidates’
political experience, which explains why male overrepresentation has been significantly reduced but not overturned.
Spain, candidate selection, proportional representation systems, electoral gender quotas, gender biases
such gendered discrimination (Fortin-Rittberger and
Rittberger 2014; Luhiste 2015; Matland and Studlar 2002;
Research on women’s representation in parliaments has
Norris 2004). This also applies to PR electoral systems,
examined whether selectorates—voters and/or political
which have been found to generally elect more women into
parties—discriminate against female candidates and legislative office than plurality systems (McAllister and
whether such discrimination drives men’s overrepresen-
Studlar 2002; Norris 1985; Paxton 1997; Reynolds 1999;
tation across the globe. Extant research reports very little
Thames and Williams 2010), but see, Moser 2001; Roberts,
voter discrimination (Golder et al. 2017; McElroy and
Seawright, and Cyr 2013).
Marsh 2010; Murray, Krook, and Opello 2012; Schwindt-
PR systems make it easier for parties to present more
Bayer, Malecki, and Crisp 2010). Only in societies where
gender-balanced tickets, as higher district magnitude
traditional cultural gender norms prevail have electoral
allows women to be nominated without deposing male
systems been found to produce some voter discrimination
candidates (Matland and Taylor 1997). In such party-cen-
against women, particularly those that permit intraparty
tered systems, party leaders cannot “blame” the electorate
voting, such as single-member plurality systems, single-
or women candidates for not campaigning hard enough, as
transferable vote systems and open-list or ordered pro-
it is they themselves who are clearly accountable for the
portional representation (PR) systems (Valdini 2012).
Conversely, a common factor that stands out in the lit-
erature is the way in which political parties favor male can-
Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain
2School of Global and Public Affairs, IE University, Madrid, Spain
didates when drafting their ballots. This so-called “strategic
discrimination” against female candidates (Murray 2008;
Corresponding Author:
Verge and Troupel 2011) limits their chances to be elected
Tània Verge, Department of Political and Social Sciences, Universitat
Pompeu Fabra, Ramon Trias Fargas 25, 08005 Barcelona, Catalonia,
to office. Studies have shown that each electoral system
provides parties with specific opportunities to practice

Political Research Quarterly 72(4)
levels of women’s representation on party ballots and in
by the use of positive action (Dahlerup and Freidenvall
parliaments. Furthermore, in multiparty systems, losing a
2005). Party quotas introduced in the late 1980s boosted
few votes might entail fewer seats in parliament, which
women’s representation from levels of around 5 percent
may set in motion a competition or “contagion” across par-
in the late 1970s to 36 percent in 2004. Despite the intro-
ties to increase their appeal to female voters by presenting
duction of a legislated gender quota in 2007, women’s
more feminized party lists (Matland and Studlar 1996).
representation has not made further gains, and has hov-
Finally, PR systems, especially those with no preference
ered around the same percentage since then, while gen-
vote option, also allow for a more effective implementa-
der gaps have persisted.
tion of gender quotas, including placement mandates when
To explore why this is the case, we use a unique data
they are established (Jones 2009; Schmidt 2009; Schwindt-
set of candidates who appear on party ballots for elections
Bayer 2009).
to the Spanish lower house during the 1986–2016 period,
This notwithstanding, parity remains an elusive goal
covering nine elections.1 The combination of a longitudi-
in most parliaments elected by PR systems, and the ques-
nal party-based and candidate-based approach enables us
tion is why. In studying the extent to which party biases
to simultaneously factor in party characteristics and can-
shape the election of women as members of parliament
didate traits and to assess the impact of both party and
(MPs), closed-list proportional representation (CLPR)
legislated quotas in gradually closing the gender gap over
systems provide an ideal setting, since voters can only
time. We focus on how the demand for certain types of
choose parties (Carey and Shugart 1995). In this case,
candidates and their placement on party ballots shape
women’s chances of being selected and ultimately
their likelihood of getting elected, and explore the ques-
elected lie exclusively in the hands of party gatekeepers.
tion of whether individual candidate attributes may miti-
Thus, to broaden our understanding of the barriers politi-
gate the gender biases underpinning candidate selection
cal parties impose on women in CLPR systems, research
should not just focus on the aggregate level and thus on
The results of the empirical analyses suggest that stra-
the election stage; rather, it is essential to examine the
tegic discrimination against women candidates in the
gendered structure of ballots and pay attention to the
allocation of list positions affects all parties, irrespective
selection stage.
of candidates’ political experience, although left-wing
Recent studies, mainly using process-tracing and single
parties have gradually reduced the prevalence of such
-case studies approaches, have shown that neglecting the
practices thanks to the effective implementation of party
candidate level means that the most crucial stage of the
quotas. The results also show that statutory gender quotas
ladder of recruitment is overlooked, meaning that the ways
with a placement mandate are still vulnerable to strategic
in which gendered discrimination operates may go unno-
discrimination, which explains why male overrepresenta-
ticed (see, Kenny and Verge 2016; Lovenduski 2016). Yet,
tion has been significantly eroded but not overturned.
qualitative approaches do not allow us to measure the
scope of such discrimination, that is, the magnitude of its
Explaining Women’s Representation
effect. Only a few scholars, focusing on a single election or
in CLPR Systems
on a few of them (see Fortin-Rittberger and Rittberger
2014; Górecki and Kukołowicz 2014; Jankowski and
Political parties shape a candidate’s chance of winning a
Marcinkiewicz 2017; Luhiste 2015), have applied quanti-
seat, and they do so in different ways depending on the
tative methods to unravel the contextual and institutional
electoral system in use. Whereas in plurality systems can-
factors (including the type of PR system in use) that shape
didates’ likelihood of getting elected depends on the con-
gender biases at the selection stage. A static picture, though,
stituency in which they have been assigned to run (safe
does not allow us to study how parties’ strategic discrimi-
vs. hopeless districts), in PR-list systems the chances are
nation evolves over time and the extent to which gender
determined by rank orders on party ballots, with win-
quotas can eliminate or mitigate such practice.
nability largely depending on having been placed in a
This article takes stock of previous research by
viable position (Norris 2004).
addressing remaining gaps in the study of the selection
While CLPR increases women’s chances of being
stage under CLPR. Specifically, the goals of the article
selected to viable positions on party tickets and, thus, of
are twofold: to measure the scope of the strategic dis-

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