Role Models, Spillovers, and the Supply Side of Women's Political Representation

This project aims to collect comprehensive data on women's representation in the municipalities of 17 Swiss cantons, including the complete list of female candidates and their electoral performance, since the introduction of women's suffrage at the municipal level. The project will use these data to study the influence of role models -- successful female politicians -- in fostering women's political representation by encouraging more women to run for office.

This project studies the supply side of women’s representation by looking at how spillovers affect the motivation of women to run for office. One of the main reasons for the enduring gender gap in politics is that women continue to be less likely than men to run for office, although their election chances tend to be the same. Previous research has found that, in the canton of Zurich, the availability of role models, defined defined as successful female politicians with whom women can identify, was associated with higher numbers of female candidates, but only for about four elections. However, the specific mechanisms by which the effects of role models decrease over time remain unclear and need further investigation. This project leverages cross-cantonal comparisons to (a) examine variations in the the duration of the effects of role models, (b) study how the influence of role models is conditioned by electoral rules, (c) investigate the unintended consequences of the consolidation of women’s representation, and (d) provide more reliable causal estimates. These steps will permit to draw clearer conclusions on the current and future potential of role models for improving women’s representation.

Despite significant progress in the past decades, women remain underrepresented in politics. Instead of a virtuous circle in which increased women's representation would create favorable conditions for even better gender equality, the share of women in elected offices has stagnated well under 30%. To overcome this state of affairs, it is essential that we better understand how the example of successful female politicians can help to bring more women into electoral politics.