Gender and the Impact of Proportional Representation: A Comment on the Peripheral Voting Thesis


The right to vote is a keystone of democracy, but many groups, including those that were long excluded from the ballot, fail to exercise their rights in large numbers. In the United States, cutting edge research has argued that the first women to cast ballots were “peripheral” voters: their decisions to participate were even more sensitive to electoral competition than were men’s, producing larger gender gaps in turnout in less competitive districts. This paper argues that the portability of the peripheral voting thesis depends on the electoral institutions when suffrage was granted. Using the example of Norway, which transitioned from majoritarian rules to proportional representation just a few years after women won the vote, I show that proportional representation, which increases competition on average, produces a dramatic fall in the gender turnout gap, particularly in previously uncompetitive districts. These findings suggest that electoral systems, more than gender, made women peripheral voters.

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