Formative Moments in Women’s Political Representation in Denmark: The Role of Voters, Parties and Women’s Movements

– the importance of closed versus open electoral lists

Drude Dahlerup, Dept. of Political Science, Stockholm University

Maria Thiemer, Dept. of Political Science, Copenhagen University

Work in progress. Do not quote without the permission of the authors.

Paper presented at the Fourth European Conference on Politics and Gender, University of Lausanne, 8-10 June 2017.

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Are open electoral list better for women’s representation than closed lists? Previous research on the effects of different electoral systems for women’s representation has been cross-national comparative analyses, often at one point in time. This paper present an analysis based on data on individual candidates for the Danish parliament since World War 2. The Danish electoral system repesents a natural experiemnt, since as one of the few countries in the world, the Danish electoral law allows the political parties to choose between different ballot structures with different degrees of openess, even within the same party.
The open versus closed lists question can be tracked back to a more fundamental question: Are the voters or the political parties the most supportive of increasing women’s representation? In the first case, women’s rights advocates should not only recommend proportional representation electoral systems, but in addition recommend open lists, while in the latter case the decision power should be left to the parties, that is, closed lists.
Research so far has disagreed on the effect of the degree of openess of the lists for women’s representation partly because of the many different forms of list structure even under PR systems. Some older studies have conclued that open or semi-open lists favour women’s representation, while newer research have concluded that closed lists are the most favorable. Other researchers point to the importance of contextual factors.
This paper presents an analysis based on electoral statistics on success rates of female and male candidates under different ballot structures, in various selected elections. Further, the impact of preferential voting under different ballot structures is scrutinized. The conclusion is that there is no universal answer to this question, independent of party and historical period.