xx Introduction Institutional Barriers While each institutional factor has its own influence on the descriptive representation of women, research has shown that electoral systems have the greatest impact on women’s representation. Electoral systems are a set of rules that determine how votes are translated into seats. There are two major electoral systems: proportional and majority. Majority systems are also called first-past-the post systems: whoever wins the most votes is elected. In proportional systems, seats are allocated based on the propor- tion of the vote a party wins: if a party wins 30 percent of the overall vote, it receives 30 percent of the seats in parliament. Countries with propor- tional electoral system have more women in parliament on average than countries with majority systems. In a 2006 study that compared the aver- age percentage of women in parliament across electoral systems found that majority systems have on average 10.5 percent women in parliament, whereas proportional systems have an average of 19.6 percent (Norris 2006, 42). One reason for this difference is that majoritarian systems are typically associated with lower district magnitude while proportional systems have a higher district magnitude. The district magnitude refers to the number of representatives elected in an electoral district. In a single-member district, voters can only elect one representative. In a multimember district, voters elect more than one representative. Single-member districts are negatively correlated with women’s representation because single-member districts represent a zero-sum game: the victory of one candidate means the defeat of all other candidates. Thus, parties want to nominate the strongest pos- sible candidate. Unfortunately, party leaders often believe that women are less electable than men—even though research has proven otherwise. In contrast, in multimember districts, parties can expect to win more than just one seat, and thus the nomination of a woman candidate is less risky. Further, parties can signal their progressive nature by nominating a diverse slate of candidates to win over voters who put a premium on diversity. First-past-the-post systems, such as the one used in the United States, are typically paired with single-member districts, while the proportional elec- toral systems used in much of Europe are combined with multimember districts. Party ideology plays another important part when it comes to the elec- tion of women. Parties on the right emphasize traditional family values, while parties on the left support progressive values that include gender
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