Youth Advantage Versus Gender Penalty: Selecting and Electing Young Candidates

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2023, Vol. 76(1) 90106
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211072559
Youth Advantage Versus Gender Penalty:
Selecting and Electing Young Candidates
Jana Belschner
Young people are under-represented in formal politics. While this may be a mere projection of their lack among voters
and party members, the article investigates whether being young is a disadvantage in election processes, and if age effects
differ by gender. Bridging the literature on gender & politics and political behavior, the article draws on an innovative
sequential mixed-method design. Studying the 2019 Irish local elections, it uses 33 interviews to build hypotheses, which
are subsequently tested on an original candidate-level dataset (n= 1884). The f‌indings suggest that, when controlling for
party aff‌iliation and political status, being young can provide a net electoral advantage to male candidates. In contrast,
young female candidates appear to be advantaged by their age but penalized by their gender. The article thus contributes
to our understanding about the conditions right at the start of political careers and the emergence of intersectional
representational inequalities.
candidate, elections, political parties, representation, voting, youth
All over the world, young
men and women are under-
represented in institutionalized politics (Fisher 2012): As
voters, party members, and elected politicians alike.
Whereas there is an abundant literature on the causes and
consequences of young peoplespolitical participation,as
voters (Albacete2014;Grasso 2016;Henn, Weinstein, and
Forrest 2005) and party members (Bruter and Harrison
2009a,2009b;Hooghe, Stolle, and Stouthuysen 2004;
Sloam 2012), less is known about their political repre-
sentation andtheir access to political off‌ice. Is being young
While gendered patterns of political over- and under-
representation have been extensively studied, research on
youth representation is only emerging (Joshi 2012;Joshi
and Och 2014;Sundstr¨
om and Stockemer2021;Stockemer
and Sundstr¨
om 2019a). Existing studies have, so far,
focused on describing and explaining cross-national
differences in the descriptive representation of youth
(Belschner 2021;IPU 2018), emphasizing the inter-
section of gender- and age-based representational in-
equalities (Belschner and Paredes 2021;Stockemer and
om 2019a,2019b). These studies conf‌irm that
youth are under-represented in politics worldwide
young women in particularand that the degree of
under-representation varies by electoral system, voting
age, and party factors.
Yet the electoral dynamics explaining these patterns
remain unexplored. Since, in general, few young people
decide to run for election, their political under-
representation may be a mere projection of this fact,
thus, a supply-side issue. On the other hand, young
candidates could be facing structural barriers on the
demand-side of the electoral process, related to parties
selection practices and voterselection preferences
(Norris and Lovenduski 1995). Furthermore, the effects
of being young may be gendered and differ for young
male and female candidates. To date, there are few
studies that analyze the intersectional effects of age and
gender on electoral performance (but see Segaard and
Saglie 2021). This article aims to address this gap by
investigating the following question: How do candidate
Department of Comparative Politics, Christian Michelsens Institute,
University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway
Corresponding Author:
Jana Belschner, Department of Comparative Politics, Christian
Michelsens Institute, University of Bergen, Christies Gate 15,
Jekteviksbakken 31, Bergen 5007, Norway.
age and gender condition candidate selection and elec-
toral performance?
It draws on an analysis of the 2019 local elections in the
Republic of Ireland (hereafter: Ireland). The D´
ail ´
Irelands lower house of parliament, exhibits one of the
lowest shares of young and female MPs in Western Eu-
rope: 12.6% of all Irish MPs are young men under
41 years of age; 3.3% are young women. This lack of
diversity in the political system tends to be attributed to
Irelands conservative (party) culture and the features of
its electoral system (Galligan and Knight 2011;McGing
2013). Ireland employs the PR-STV system (Proportional
Representation with Single Transferable Vote), which
allows voters to express preferences for individual can-
didates within those pre-selected by the political parties.
PR-STV is counted among the most personalized electoral
systems (McElroy and Marsh 2010).
The articles focus on Irish local elections is motivated
by three aspect s. First, the unique setup of PR-STV en-
ables the researcher to assess and compare both party and
voter behavior, that is, candidate selection and election.
These two main demand-side-related effects for repre-
sentational outcomes are notoriously diff‌icult to disen-
tangle empirically, which is why most studies on electoral
behavior focus on either one of them (Doherty, Dowling,
and Miller 2019;Marien, Schouteden, and Wauters 2017;
McGregor et al. 2017). Second, local politics is often the
f‌irst step of a political career and thus a suitable site to
study the conditions for young candidateselectoral
performance (Cirone, Cox, and Fiva 2021;Buckley and
Hofman 2015;Buckley et al. 2015;Fortin-Rittberger et al.
2019). Third, as illustrated above, Ireland represents a
most likely case for the existence of demand-side-related
barriers to young peoplespolitical representation. As
such, it allows us to assess the scope conditions under
which one would expect to f‌ind these barriers also be-
yond the specif‌ic Irish case. If they are not present in
Ireland, they are unlikely to occur in most other com-
parable settings.
The article uses an innovative sequential mixed-
methods design that swaps the classical order of steps
in a multi-method analysis. Instead of using quantitative
data to f‌ind correlations that are then explained by
qualitative data, I start by analyzing 33 explorative in-
terviews with young party members, local councilors, and
election candidates. This is done to identify relevant
variables and possible mediation and interaction (mod-
eration) effects, which are then tested quantitatively. This
procedure is motivated by the fact that literature on the
role of age in electoral processes is relatively scant and, if
we assume that intersectional effects may differ from the
simple sum of separate age and gender effects, not suf-
f‌icient to formulate specif‌ic expectations regarding in-
tersectional dynamics in electoral processes.
Specif‌ically, the interviewees rejected the idea of a
discriminatory bias against young candidates among ei-
ther party elites or voters. Instead, they identif‌ied three
relevant variables expected to mediate (Baron and Kenny
1986) the effects of candidate age and gender on perfor-
mance in selectionand election processes: party aff‌iliation,
political status, and dynastic relations.
These variables
were then collected foran original dataset of an almost full
sample of the 2019local election candidates (n=1884)that
was used to test the hypotheses quantitatively.
In terms of selection effects, the data show that young
candidates tend to run for smaller and younger parties that
win fewer seats in total. Furthermore, parties prefer
candidates with high political statusthis correlates with
being male and middle-aged. Third, parties preferably
select young candidates with ties to political dynasties. In
terms of election effects, a series of multivariate regres-
sions conf‌irm that a good proportion of young candidates
weaker electoral performance can be attributed to these
systematic differences in party aff‌iliation and lower levels
of political status. Both electoral disadvantages hit young
women harder. Specif‌ically, voters seem to prefer young men
for their f‌irst preference votes. In contrast, young women
appear to be second-choice candidates,over-proportionally
prof‌iting from lower order preference votes. At the same
time, the dataconf‌irm that neither parties nor votersseem to
exhibit systematicbiases against young candidatesbecause
of their age, and that voters even prefer young men over
middle-aged men, ceteris paribus.
The article therefore concludes that, in candidate-
centered elections, young women are advantaged by
their age (compared to middle-aged women) but pe-
nalized by their gender (compared to young men).
Furthermore, it argues that future research should focus
on investigating the intersectional age- and gender ef-
fects of supply-side factors on representation, and for
instance explore why fewer young female party members
decide to run for election.
Literature Review: Candidate Age and Gender in
Electoral Processes
For a long time, research into youth and politicswas
almost exclusively dedicated to researching young peo-
ples(lack of) political participation. Recently, however,
the presenceor absenceof young adults in political
bodies has become a topic on the research agenda of
comparative politics. So far, most work focused on de-
f‌ining youthin political representation (Sundstr ¨
om and
Stockemer 2021), as well as on describing and explaining
which factors condition higher or lower levels of young
people in parliaments (Stockemer and Sundstr ¨
om 2020;
Joshi 2015) and governments (Stockemer and Sundstr ¨
2021). In their seminal work, Stockemer and Sundstr ¨
Belschner 91

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