Unintended Institutional Interactions: Presidential Coattails and Gender Parity Quotas

Published date01 September 2022
Date01 September 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
© 2021 University of Utah
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211017242
Several countries have taken explicit efforts to increase
the descriptive representation of women. An increasingly
common tool employed is the adoption of candidate
quotas. However, not all quotas are equally effective.
Research has shown that only properly designed quotas—
those with placement mandates and strong penalties for
non-compliance—have had a significant impact on the
number of women elected to the parliament (Jones 2009).
Those that leave room for the continuation of a male bias
are often taken advantage of. Where a poorly designed
quota law largely leaves open the potential for continued
bias, factors beyond the quota may end up determining its
impact on the number of women who actually end up
obtaining office. Sometimes these other factors take on
different values over time, making the quota’s perfor-
mance seem inconsistent or hard to understand.
Research has shown that in electoral systems where
parties provide lists of candidates to potentially fill mul-
tiple seats, quotas without a placement requirement fre-
quently have little impact. Parties could field some
sought-after number of women but put them in unelectable
list spots. What are known as “zipper” quotas—with can-
didates in list positions alternating by gender—tend to
work significantly better (Schwindt-Bayer 2009). It has
been argued that electoral systems that select one member
of parliament per district are unlikely to pursue the
descriptive representation through quotas because female
candidates cannot be nominated as part of party slate that
also contains (perhaps many more) male candidates.
Potential female candidates are in a zero-sum competi-
tion with their male copartisans (Krook 2018). However,
more recent work has shown that a simple proportional
versus majoritarian distinction is probably not suffi-
ciently nuanced (Krook 2018) and that creative institu-
tional choices in majoritarian systems can work to put
more women in office (Christensen and Bardall 2016).
Since 1991, when the first candidate-based quota was
implemented in Nepal, fifty-two additional countries
have adopted some type of candidate quota.1 The average
candidate quota called for 30.22 percent of candidates to
be women (Hughes et al. 2019). Across these cases, in the
first election after the adoption of the quota, women won
5.83 percent more of the seats in parliament than they had
held in the previous term. While often not having an
immediate impact, the success of candidate quotas seems
to gain momentum over time. In the forty-three countries
that maintained candidate-based quotas, women won
15.06 percent more of the seats in parliament in the most
17242PRQXXX10.1177/10659129211017242Political Research QuarterlyCunha Silva and Crisp
1Washington University in St. Louis, MO, USA
Corresponding Author:
Brian F. Crisp, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1063,
One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO 63130, USA.
Email: crisp@wustl.edu
Unintended Institutional Interactions:
Presidential Coattails and Gender
Parity Quotas
Patrick Cunha Silva1 and Brian F. Crisp1
Democratic institutions provide incentives for voters and candidates. When reformers tinker with multiple institutions,
the likely effect of each individual change may be well understood, but their potential interaction may go unanticipated.
Prior to elections in 2002, the French legislature adopted a gender parity candidate quota for parties participating in
parliamentary elections. In addition, voters ratified a constitutional referendum making the president’s term match
that of parliament, and presidential elections were set to be held immediately prior to parliamentary ones. We show
that the unanticipated consequence of these separate institutional reforms was to make the fate of female candidates
for parliament very much a function of presidential coattails. When the party of the president failed to fulfill the
candidate quota, the number of women in parliament showed little change. Conversely, in years when the party of the
president took the candidate quota seriously, the number of women in parliament increased.
gender quotas, presidential coattail, electoral calendar, France
2022, Vol. 75(3) 620–631

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