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

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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 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 how suffrage was sequenced with other democratizing reforms. Using the example of Norway, which transitioned from majoritarian rules to proportional representation just a few years after women won the vote, we show that the dynamic between competition, participation, and the gender gap attenuates after PR is adopted. In fact, Norwegian women cast nearly half of all ballots after PR, making women central, rather than peripheral, voters.
Discussant: Marta Antonetti (Oxford)