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Mind the gap: Do proportional electoral systems foster a more equal representation of women and men, poor and rich?


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Female gender and low income are two markers for groups that have been historically disadvantaged within most societies. The study explores two research questions related to their political representation: (1) 'Are parties biased towards the ideological preferences of male and rich citizens?'; and (2) 'Does the proportionality of the electoral system moderate the degree of under-representation of women and poor citizens in the party system?' A multilevel analysis of survey data from 24 parliamentary democracies indicates that there is some bias against those with low income and, at a much smaller rate, women. This has systemic consequences for the quality of representation, as the preferences of the complementary groups differ. The proportionality of the electoral system influences the degree of under-representation: specifically, larger district magnitudes help in closing the considerable gap between rich and poor.
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International Political Science Review
2015, Vol. 36(1) 78 –98
© The Author(s) 2013
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DOI: 10.1177/0192512113498830
Mind the gap: Do proportional
electoral systems foster a more
equal representation of women
and men, poor and rich?
Julian Bernauer
University of Berne, Switzerland
Nathalie Giger
University of Mannheim, Germany
Jan Rosset
University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Female gender and low income are two markers for groups that have been historically disadvantaged
within most societies. The study explores two research questions related to their political representation:
(1) ‘Are parties biased towards the ideological preferences of male and rich citizens?’; and (2) ‘Does the
proportionality of the electoral system moderate the degree of under-representation of women and poor
citizens in the party system?’ A multilevel analysis of survey data from 24 parliamentary democracies indicates
that there is some bias against those with low income and, at a much smaller rate, women. This has systemic
consequences for the quality of representation, as the preferences of the complementary groups differ. The
proportionality of the electoral system influences the degree of under-representation: specifically, larger
district magnitudes help in closing the considerable gap between rich and poor.
Gender inequality, ideological congruence, income inequality, multilevel regression, proportional representation
In an ideal democracy, every citizen, regardless of differences in, say, income or gender, is endowed
with equal political voice. In reality, money and other unequally distributed resources heavily
Corresponding author:
Julian Bernauer, Institute of Political Science, University of Berne, Fabrikstrasse 8, 3012 Berne, Switzerland.
498830IPS36110.1177/0192512113498830International Political Science ReviewBernauer et al.
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Bernauer et al. 79
influence processes of political decision-making. Social status is related to political participation
(Lijphart, 1997), potentially further widening gaps in representation between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’.
Similarly, a gender gap could result from the continuing male dominance in political leadership,
despite decades or even centuries of movements for women’s rights. We join the resulting debate
that has emerged around the question of whether representatives are selectively responsive to spe-
cific subgroups of the citizenry.
Most of this kind of research, in particular, on income and political inequality, has heavily
focused on the US case (Bartels, 2008; Enns and Wlezien, 2011; Gilens, 2005; Griffin and Newman,
2007; Hacker and Pierson, 2010; Jacobs and Page, 2005; Schlozman et al., 2012; Soroka and
Wlezien, 2008; Ura and Ellis, 2008). The study at hand widens the scope both geographically,
covering 24 Western democracies, and thematically, addressing the role of the institutional context
for the quality of representation. Within the field of subordination, we study the ideological prefer-
ences of two historically disadvantaged groups (Phillips, 1995; Piven and Cloward, 1977): women
and less affluent citizens.
Not all citizens are able to make their voice heard in the political process, and economic or
class-based inequalities, in particular, are reinforced through biases in political representation,
organisation and policy (Bartels, 2008; Hacker and Pierson, 2010; Schlozman et al., 2012). US
case studies have documented that both policy output (Gilens, 2005, 2012) and the behaviour of
individual legislators (Bartels, 2008) tend to mirror the interests and preferences of rich citizens
more closely than those of the poor. Individual participation and organised interests are equally
biased towards the more educated and affluent (Schlozman et al., 2012). Similarly, there is a grow-
ing literature focusing on the substantive representation of women’s interests and the possible link
to the number of women in the legislature (see, e.g., Ruedin, 2013; Sawer, 2012; Schwindt-Bayer
and Mishler, 2005; Studlar and McAllister, 1996; Wängnerud and Sundell, 2012). These studies
provide initial support for the thesis that representative bodies tend to be biased towards the prefer-
ences of men and rich citizens.
In line with the literature on party–citizen linkages (Adams and Ezrow, 2009; Dalton, 1985;
Ezrow, 2010; Thomassen, 1994), we argue that one of the main channels for the representation of
citizens’ ideological or policy preferences is political parties and that the party system ‘makes it
possible for citizens to express their preferences’ (Powell, 2004: 93). Building on this reasoning,
we study the substantive representation of these subgroups by analysing their ideological congru-
ence with political parties. This approach has the advantage of understanding political parties as
intermediaries of preferences, which has been little explored so far in the study of inequalities in
representation (however, see Adams and Ezrow, 2009; Giger et al., 2012) despite the importance
of party–citizen linkages in the literature on substantive representation (see, e.g., Ezrow, 2010;
Thomassen, 1994). Furthermore, our broad comparative focus allows studying the role of political
institutions. We believe that electoral rules are important moderators in the translation of prefer-
ences into effective representation. While an extant literature is dealing with the general question
of whether proportional electoral rules foster closer congruence between citizens and elites (Blais
and Bodet, 2006; Golder and Stramski, 2010; Powell, 2000), less is known about the impact of the
institutional setting on the ideological representation of subgroups.1 Following a large body of lit-
erature emphasising the fairness and inclusiveness of proportional representation (PR; for a review,
see Blais, 1991), we argue that proportional electoral systems favour a more equal representation
of women and the poor. PR allows for more parties, which can and will spread across the whole
ideological range (Golder and Stramski, 2010), and, hence, for more (viable) parties on the Left –
the political ‘corner’ typically preferred by the groups of interest (see below). Furthermore, and
flying under the radar in this analysis, the larger district magnitudes under PR (and the size of a
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80 International Political Science Review 36(1)
party’s district delegation; see Matland, 1993) encourage the nomination and election of more
female candidates (Kostadinova, 2007; Matland, 1998), and likely more balanced sets of candi-
dates in general.
The results of the quantitative-empirical analysis indicate that poor citizens, in particular, share
distinct left-leaning preferences, and suffer from bias against these. Most notably, proportional
electoral rules and, specifically, larger district magnitudes reduce the under-representation of the
poor. The picture is much less clear-cut in the case of women. Their level of ideological congru-
ence is only slightly and statistically insignificantly lower than that of men on average. Although
levels of relative representation of women differ clearly across countries, this limited variation
cannot be attributed to the influence of the electoral system. In sum, there appears to be some lee-
way for institutional design to reduce gaps in substantive representation between the rich and poor.
The ideological representation of women and the poor
One of the recent trends in the study of representation has been to disentangle constituency repre-
sentation and analyse how well smaller groups within the population, in other words, sub-constit-
uencies (Adams and Ezrow, 2009), are represented. This literature has focused mainly on the
substantive representation of two broadly defined groups of citizens: those who were thought of as
most influential (see Adams and Ezrow, 2009; Ezrow et al., 2011; Griffin and Newman, 2005;
Jacobs and Page, 2005) and disadvantaged ones (Bartels, 2008: 252–282; Gilens, 2005; Griffin and
Newman, 2007; Schwindt-Bayer and Mishler, 2005). In this article, we take the second perspective
and focus on the ideological representation2 of two core groups in this respect, namely, women and
poor citizens.3 They share features that make their study particularly relevant in terms of represen-
tation and democracy. These particular groups have historically been excluded from the democratic
process and, notably, from the right to vote. Beyond female disenfranchisement, many of the early
modern democratic institutions excluded the poor from elections. Examples are electoral rules that
required the payment of a tax for voting (Belgium) or being a property owner (UK, USA). Some
electoral systems also gave differential weight to citizens’ votes depending on the income group to
which they belonged (Prussia).
Further, there is reason to expect that poor citizens and women differ in their preferences from
the rest of the population in the sense that they (to varying degrees and with exceptions) share simi-
lar (positive) attitudes towards redistribution and the welfare state, mapping on left-leaning ideo-
logical positions. Hence, their lack of representation in the party system can have severe
consequences for the quality of representation at the aggregate level (Griffin and Newman, 2007:
1037). Recent work about the preference distributions of the rich and poor underpins that those
with low income tend to differ in their preferences, especially with regard to welfare and redistribu-
tion (Cusack et al., 2008; Enns and Wlezien, 2011; Gilens, 2009; Headey and Muller, 1996). These
findings at least partly support the established Meltzer–Richard model (Meltzer and Richard,
1981), which assumes that poor citizens favour redistributive policies up to the point where the
benefit for them is outweighed by the efficiency costs of taxation.4 There is also some evidence that
despite the heterogeneity of women’s social status, differences between the genders in terms of
broad ideological orientations exist. Recent evidence suggests that in many industrialised coun-
tries, women share more left-leaning attitudes than men and also vote in higher proportions for
left-of-centre parties (Bergh, 2007; Giger, 2009; Inglehart and Norris, 2000; Manza and Brooks,
1998; Studlar et al., 1998). The literature further documents that women have more positive atti-
tudes towards redistribution and social security than men (Cusack et al., 2008; Gidengil et al.,
2003). Studies in a political-economy tradition explain this as an insurance against the high risk of
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Bernauer et al. 81
divorce and the resulting drop in income and dependency on the welfare state (Iversen and
Rosenbluth, 2006), while others point to the influence of structural factors or background variables
(Bergh, 2007; Inglehart and Norris, 2000; Studlar et al., 1998). In total, there is reason to expect
that low-income groups and – likely to a smaller extent5 – women have preferences towards more
redistribution and extensive social security. As these two claims are tightly linked to the Left–Right
cleavage in Western societies, we expect that they have preferences to the left of the rest of the
population. This creates the potential for bias in representation, depending on the ideological posi-
tions of political elites.
A number of recent studies address the question of whether US representatives are unequally
responsive towards citizens with different economic resources. While evidence is generally mixed,
a general conclusion is that when there are differences in policy preferences between income
groups, the views defended by the rich are better heard. Indeed, while some studies found limited
evidence for systematic differences in policy preferences across income groups (Soroka and
Wlezien, 2008; Ura and Ellis, 2008) and consequently little leeway for the thesis that the US leg-
islature is more responsive to the rich, Gilens (2005, 2012) and Bartels (2008: 252–282) unearth a
systematic bias of representatives towards citizens with higher income. The main explanations for
such a pattern include differences in political participation rates across income groups and their
diverse financial contributions to parties (Schlozman et al., 2012), as well as the fact that elected
representatives tend to be recruited from the upper social classes and understand better the needs
of their affluent voters, with whom they share a similar lifestyle (Mansbridge, 1999).
Recent studies dealing with the substantive representation of women have focused on the impact
of the proportion of women in parliaments on policymaking. Research has notably shown a link
between the gender of parliamentarians and their attitudes and behaviour in parliament (Evans,
2008; Studlar and McAllister, 1996) and has also demonstrated that the number of women in par-
liament has policy consequences (Schwindt-Bayer and Mishler, 2005; Wängnerud and Sundell,
2012). This literature provides evidence for a link between the descriptive and substantive repre-
sentation of women,6 indirectly showing that given the generally low number of women sitting in
parliament, women’s preferences are likely to be under-represented in policymaking. Less work is
directly concerned with the question of whether women suffer in general from lower ideological
congruence than men, although there is some affirmative evidence (Lovenduski and Norris, 2003).
In sum, based on the existing literature on the representation of these subgroups of the population,
we hypothesise a negative relationship between the individual features of female gender and low
income, on the one hand, and ideological congruence on a Left–Right dimension, on the other:
H1a: Female and poor citizens have lower levels of ideological congruence with political parties on a
Left–Right scale than male and rich citizens.
While the existing literature encourages the formulation of such hypotheses about a relationship
between low income or female gender and political representation, it generally lacks an integrated
perspective on the overlap between the two features and group heterogeneity (Dovi, 2007). This
study takes a different approach and acknowledges that the two subgroups covered here are neither
completely overlapping nor completely independent from one another. It is well known that gender
is a socially cross-cutting factor and while women are present in all societal classes, there is reason
to expect that women constitute a larger share of the poor than men. In fact, the differences in their
socio-economic background are listed as one of the driving forces behind the tendency of women
to have more leftist attitudes than men (see, e.g., Inglehart and Norris, 2000; Studlar et al., 1998).
Hence, we expect some of the potentially leftist positions of women to be explained by social
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82 International Political Science Review 36(1)
factors such as income, but also maintain that, additionally, gender-specific life risks independent
of social status provide reasons for more leftist attitudes. In sum, it makes sense to account for
income and gender simultaneously in order to disentangle the relative effects of both features. We
see little reasons for postulating an interactive relationship, though, as both gender and income
induce similar preferences and neither offset nor necessarily reinforce each other. Still, the latter
possibility – that poor women are represented worse beyond a mere additive effect between income
and gender – appears slightly more likely and will be tested empirically:
H1b: Female poor citizens are particularly prone to have lower levels of party-ideological congruence on
a Left–Right scale than other voters.
Electoral rules and the ideological representation of women
and the poor
The purpose of this study is not only to describe the possible under-representation of certain groups
in the context of Western democracies, but also to examine whether the electoral system systemati-
cally moderates levels of under-representation. Such institutional factors can only be studied in a
cross-national perspective. We build on the debate as to whether PR systems foster ideological
congruence (Blais and Bodet, 2006; Golder and Stramski, 2010; Huber and Powell, 1994; Powell,
2000) between citizens and elites. The answer very much depends on the concept of congruence
chosen; in particular, there is increasing evidence that while PR fosters closer congruence between
citizens and legislatures compared with majority or plurality rule, there are little differences at the
government level due to the logic of coalition-building under PR (Blais and Bodet, 2006; Golder
and Stramski, 2010). Previous studies have mainly focused on congruence between governments
and the median voter (Esaiasson and Holmberg, 1996; Powell, 2000). We approach the topic from
a different angle, emphasising the role that parties and the party system play in the process of the
representation of interests. Particularly in a European context, parties are important vehicles for the
representation of citizens’ preferences, and the representation of citizens’ interests in the party
system is, hence, an important criterion to judge representational quality (Powell, 2000). Given our
party-centred focus on ideological congruence, we posit that PR systems perform better in the
representation of subgroups. While the current literature points towards the view that PR produces
a better descriptive representation of women (Kenworthy and Malami, 1999; Matland, 1998;
Matland and Studlar, 1996; Norris, 2006; Paxton, 1997; Ruedin, 2013; Siaroff, 2000; Studlar and
McAllister, 2002) or ethnic minority groups and their parties (Kostadinova, 2007), we expand this
argument to the ideological representation of women and the poor.
PR, we argue, moderates the extent to which inequalities in representation between individual
voters and parties arise, as such electoral rules can be understood as ‘permissive’ (Cox, 1997: 142;
Moser and Schreiner, 2012: 182) or ‘weak’ (Taagepera, 2002). They foster the entry and success of
smaller parties (Cox, 1997; Duverger, 1963), spreading the ideological range and yielding a legis-
lature closely mirroring the preferences of citizens (Golder and Stramski, 2010). On the basis of
models of spatial competition (Downs, 1957), we assume that party elites behave in an instrumen-
tally rational way in seeking votes by offering voters corresponding policy or ideological positions
(Cox, 1990; Strøm and Mueller, 1999). The structure of the electoral system is expected to influ-
ence party competition and levels of (subgroup) ideological representation by altering the incentive
structure for political elites (Blais and Bodet, 2006; Golder and Stramski, 2010; McDonald et al.,
2004; Powell, 2000). In this model, the electoral structure governs the number of parties competing
for voters and their relative ideological positioning.7 As long as a new party does not locate itself
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Bernauer et al. 83
exactly at the position of an existing party and stays within the distribution of voters, its addition
to the ideological space has the immediate mechanical effect of enhancing congruence between
voters and parties as one more position is available. We also expect a strategic effect under PR, as
parties will choose their positions in order to distinguish themselves from other parties by also tak-
ing extreme positions (see, e.g., Calvo and Hellwig, 2011). It is well known that unlike under
majoritarian rules, where two parties ideally converge towards the median voter (Duverger, 1963),
there is no clear equilibrium of positions in the multi-party context. Still, we expect the multiple
parties under PR to occupy alternative positions, hence covering the preferences of most citizens.
In this respect, in particular, disadvantaged groups benefit from PR. Given their weaker voice due
to lacking resources and lower levels of participation (Lijphart, 1997), these groups are less attrac-
tive compared with others for mainstream parties but arguably represent a worthwhile potential
electorate for smaller parties. Hence, the subgroups are not likely to be targeted unless the ideologi-
cal space gets crowded by parties seeking a niche. If the subgroups have distinct preferences, and
additional parties cater for these, their ideological representation is enhanced.
In addition to these considerations, poor and female citizens might also benefit from the change
in coalition patterns resulting from an increasing number of parties. Iversen and Soskice (2006)
have shown that moving from a two- to a multi-party system changes coalition strategies of centrist
actors in favour of the poor. In their model, the centrist voters who belong to the middle class have
less bargaining power under majority or plurality voting compared with PR. In majoritarian sys-
tems, because they cannot rely on a committed party, they are more inclined to vote strategically
and ally with the rich for fear of being exploited by the poor. This has as a consequence that the
‘political space in majoritarian systems is tilted to the right’ (Iversen and Soskice, 2006: 176).
Thus, PR not only results in parties filling the positions that are not yet taken in the ideological
space, but is also likely to produce a leftward readjustment of the party system – which is to the
favour of the two sub-constituencies studied if they have preferences to the left of the rest of the
population. In sum, the gap between women and men, and the poor and rich, should close to a
certain extent under PR. This explanation yields a cross-level interaction between subgroup status
and electoral context:
H2: The more proportional the electoral rules, the lower the under-representation of female and poor
Design, data and model
To assess the ideological representation of sub-constituency interests, a multilevel analysis using
data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) is performed. Twenty-four demo-
cratic, non-presidential systems from the first two waves of the CSES are chosen, covering 45
elections between 1996 and 2006.8 The countries covered are: Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria,
Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy,
the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden,
Switzerland and the UK. Within these countries, the CSES survey data cover several tens of thou-
sands of respondents, which are the basic units of analysis.
We rely on an established measure of ideological representation, which Achen (1978) calls the
‘proximity’ between political elites and constituencies. We are interested in whether the preferences
of subgroups are farther from the parties than are the rest of the population. This focus on relative
differences carries the advantage that it eases many of the problems associated with measurements
of ideological congruence and the interpretation of absolute values of ideological distance measures.
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84 International Political Science Review 36(1)
In our design, we only have to assume that the measures of ideological positions are likely to be
equally flawed across societal groups. Therefore, if we find that one societal group, for example,
women, has a larger distance to the party system compared with the rest of the population, we can
at least say that they are relatively worse represented.
The dependent variable in the analysis is the ideological congruence between individuals and
the party closest to their preferences (i.e. the party whose absolute distance to that individual is
smallest) on a Left–Right scale, and, hence, is measured at the individual level. The data on indi-
vidual ideological positions is taken from the CSES, where respondents are asked to place them-
selves on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 means ‘Left’ and 10 means ‘Right’.9 For measuring the
preferences of parties, we use CSES expert judgements10 of party positions on the very same scale,
which are included in the CSES data set.11 We assume that both scales are quasi-continuous. The
individual ideological congruence Cij is defined as the absolute distance between the position of
citizen Pij and the position of the party most proximate to her own position Pj, multiplied by −1:
Cij = −min| Pj – Pij |
The multiplication by −1 eases the interpretation of the indicator. If the distance between a citizen
and the most proximate party gets smaller, Cij rises from negative values towards 0 and ideological
congruence increases.
The measure of ideological congruence as the distance between a citizen’s own position and that
of the closest party has several advantages compared to measures such as the distance to the party
voted for. First, it reflects the theoretical concept of ideological representation by highlighting its
‘systemic’ component (Pitkin, 1967).12 It allows us, second, to include the whole population in the
model and not only those citizens turning out to vote or indicating a party preference. And, third,
we also believe that by modelling congruence at the individual level (see also Griffin and Newman,
2007), we gain new leverage on representational quality as we include not only the average or
median preference, but also information about the distribution of the preferences. Golder and
Stramski’s (2010) measure of absolute congruence is similar to our measure as both capture the
distribution of preferences rather than relying on a point estimate. However, since we are interested
in group differences, our estimate is on the individual rather than the aggregate level.
The focal independent variables are the identifiers for sub-constituency status. Straightforwardly,
gender is coded 1 for women and 0 for men. Low-income groups are defined as the lower two
income quintiles (1) against the higher three quintiles (0), allowing cross-country comparisons (for
a similar approach, see Bartels, 2008).13 The last step in the analysis concentrates on system-level
explanations for gaps in representation between groups. The electoral structure has been discussed
as a moderating factor that increases ideological congruence in particular for women and the poor.
Instead of output measures such as the vote–seat proportionality of electoral results (Gallagher
index, see Lijphart, 2012), a more fine-grained input measure capturing the institutional ‘permis-
siveness’ (Moser and Schreiner, 2012) or ‘strength’ (Taagepera, 2002) of electoral systems is used
to operationalise the proportionality of electoral systems. To this end, we follow Cox (1997: 208),
who introduces two variables that capture the effects of lower and (if any) upper tiers of the elec-
toral system separately. The lower-tier variable is the log median legislator district magnitude.14
Cox (1997: 209) justifies this measure by arguing that the strength of electoral systems is best
captured using the district magnitude that is most common among legislators. A second factor
influencing the proportionality of the electoral system is possible upper tiers that add proportional-
ity to the electoral outcome. This variable equals the ‘percentage of all assembly seats allocated in
the upper tier(s) of the polity’ (Cox, 1997: 209). Typically, mixed electoral systems would appear
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Bernauer et al. 85
overly disproportional, relying only on district magnitude. District magnitude and the seat share
allocated in upper tiers are inversely related in the sample at hand. Systems with additional tiers of
varying size and effect are those of Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, New Zealand,
Norway, Poland and Sweden. Additionally, in line with previous work (see, e.g., Blais and Bodet,
2006), we control for the age of democracy, based on the observation that young democracies
might suffer from generally lower levels of ideological representation due to reasons such as that
the party system is yet to be consolidated.
Multilevel models are the method of choice to adequately treat the data at hand, where individu-
als are nested in countries (Steenbergen and Jones, 2002). The method also enables us to adequately
test the interactive hypothesis, which postulates moderating effects of system characteristics on the
relationship between gender or income and ideological representation. The structure of our two-
level linear multilevel model is described as follows:
Level 1:
ik kkik ik
=+ +
ππ ε
Level 2 random intercept:
00 0kkk
W=+ +
Level 2 random slopes:
10 1
W=+ +
The model explains individual ideological congruence (Cik) of citizen i in country k by individ-
ual-level variables (Aik, their estimates π respectively) and country-level15 variables (Wk, their esti-
mates γ respectively). Furthermore, the model also includes variance terms on all levels (εik, µok)
which are assumed to be normally distributed. To model interactions, random slopes 1k for one or
several individual-level variables Aik are modelled as a function of a mean effect
0, cross-level
interactions between country-level variables Wk and individual-level variables Aik (where
is a
vector of coefficients), and a variance term µ1k. The descriptive and quantitative results are pre-
sented in the subsequent section.
As a first step of our analysis, we focus on the question of whether the preferences of the two
groups studied are different from those of the rest of the population. Without differences in prefer-
ences between groups, there can be no under-representation of one group at the macro level. Our
theoretical expectation is that the two groups under consideration show more leftist attitudes than
the rest of the population due to their specific social positions. Figures 1 and 2 present the distribu-
tions of plain preferences of women versus men and the poor versus the rich, separated by
The two figures show that the distributions of the preferences are not totally congruent with a
tendency towards more leftist preferences (negative gap). Women have on average more leftist
positions than do men; in our sample, this is the case in 17 out of the 24 countries. However, we
also find instances where the reverse is true and female voters on average are to the right of males,
for example, in the case of Finland. But largely, the findings are in accordance with the literature,
which predicts a modern gender gap regarding preferences and voting (i.e. women leaning more to
the left) in industrialised countries. Similarly, and slightly more pronounced, lower-income groups
are less rightist than the higher-income groups (about .17 on average, significant at p < .01). Again,
this is true for most cases in our sample, but not a universal phenomenon: in Slovenia, Ireland,
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86 International Political Science Review 36(1)
Switzerland and Portugal, we even observe low-income voters to be slightly more rightist than
high-income voters. These diverging cases might be explained by the specific meaning of Left/
Right in a country (where Ireland is known as a special case), or by the strength of populist parties
finding support among the poor (e.g. note the difference in Switzerland to the representation of
women). In sum, though, we find support for our expectation of female and low-income group
preferences gravitating towards the Left, with the indication that an under-representation of these
societal groups is also relevant at the macro level.
The next step of our analyses is to test whether the two groups are also further away from the
party system than their counterparts. An ‘empty’ model without covariates (Table 1, Model 0)
Figure 1. Distribution of preferences by gender separated per country.
Note: Negative numbers indicate women more to the left than men; positive numbers the opposite. Grey bars indicate
non-significant differences between the two groups.
Figure 2. Distribution of preferences by income separated per country.
Note: Negative numbers indicate low-income citizens more to the left than high-income citizens; positive numbers the
opposite. Grey bars indicate non-significant differences between the two groups.
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Bernauer et al. 87
shows a considerable variance share at the country level (9%), indicating that representation not
only is determined at the individual level, but also has a systematic context-level component.
Model 1 introduces the effect of being a female and of low income on ideological congruence. In
Model 1 (testing H1a), we see that low income reduces individual ideological congruence by .10
(statistically significant at p < .01), while female gender has a smaller negative effect of .01, which
is not significant across the whole sample. Notably, both variables have country-specific effects, as
their random slopes indicate. A more detailed assessment of the representation of the two sub-
groups is presented in Figure 3, where the average effects of being poor or female are displayed per
Here, it becomes visible that the under-representation of the poor is a very consistent phenom-
enon: there is not a single country in our sample where low-income citizens are better represented
than their high-income counterparts. The situation is different for women: while we find a consid-
erable lower representation, that is, a negative coefficient of being female, in some countries (e.g.
Germany, Switzerland and Sweden), there is no universal pattern, and, in some countries, such as
Bulgaria or Norway, women are even slightly better represented than men by political parties on
the Left–Right dimension. This diverse situation of female representation is also the reason why
the coefficient on female gender in Model 1 (Table 1) is not pointing in one direction in a statisti-
cally significant fashion.
Although one might argue that the effects appear to be limited in absolute terms, we believe that
they should be regarded as substantive when related to the average distance between voters and the
closest party – particularly, if we take into consideration that citizens belonging to middle- and
high-income categories are on average only 0.57 points and 0.55 points, respectively, away from
the closest party. Low-income citizens are on average 18% further away from their party than the
more affluent. The effect is much less considerable in the case of women (around 4% further dis-
tance as compared with men).
In Model 2 (Table 1), an interaction between the status of low income and female is introduced
based on the discussion of a reinforcing pattern of being female and poor at the same time (H1b).
Table 1. Empty model and sub-constituencies (dependent variable: individual ideological congruence).
Model 0 Model 1 Model 2
Individual level
Female −.01 (.01) −.01 (.01)
Low income −.10 (.02)*** −.10 (.02)***
Female × low income .01 (.01)
Constant −.62 (.02)*** −.58 (.05)*** −.58 (.05)***
Random intercepts
Variance (countries) .062 (.018) .053 (.016) .053 (.016)
Variance (individuals) .564 (.003) .559 (.004) .559 (.004)
Random slopes
Variance (female) .003 (.001) .003 (.001)
Variance (low income) .005 (.002) .005 (.002)
N (countries) 24 24 24
N (individuals) 50675 50675 50675
Test vs linear reg. (p) .00 .00 .00
Notes: *** p < .01. Standard errors in parentheses. All calculations were performed in Stata 12, using the xtmixed
command with the reml (restricted maximum likelihood) algorithm.
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88 International Political Science Review 36(1)
Empirically, we find no such effects. The absence of an interactive pattern does not preclude the
existence of additive effects of under-representation. Model 2 predicts that female poor citizens
additively have the lowest scores of representation by parties.
Table 2 explores how subgroup representation depends on the country context, and more pre-
cisely, on the proportionality of the electoral system (H2). This is encouraged by the considerable
variation of the effects of both low income and female gender across countries. Model 3 reports the
corresponding findings with regard to the electoral system and its cross-level interactions with
subgroup status. Given the overlap between being poor and female, we estimate both cross-level
interactions in one model. Low income and female gender are interacted with the logged median
legislator district magnitude and the seat share allocated in upper tiers. The control for the age of
democracy indicates that levels of ideological congruence are generally much higher in established
systems. We now discuss the focal moderating effects of district size and upper-tier compensations
in more detail.
In models with interactions, the constitutive effects of variables refer to the situation where the
other variable in the interaction equals zero, while the interactive effect is a change in the effect of
either variable when the other variable changes by one unit (see Brambor et al., 2006). The coef-
ficient on low income in Model 3 refers to the effect of being poor and male under electoral sys-
tems with logged median legislator district magnitudes of 0 (and no seats allocated in upper tiers),
which equals single-member district systems. It shows that the poor have about a .13 lower ideo-
logical congruence than the rich under these conditions, again statistically significant at high lev-
els. To assess the effects of income and gender at different levels of electoral proportionality, both
the constitutive effects and the interaction effects are used to compute marginal effects. The under-
representation of individuals with low incomes decreases when electoral districts are larger, which
is visible in the positive coefficient of the interaction term between district size and low income.
For women, where there is no under-representation on average to start with, no moderation of the
district size is visible.
The upper panel of Figure 4 visualises the marginal effect of low income and gender, along
with stars indicating significance (see Brambor et al., 2006), as the log of the median legislator
Figure 3. Ideological representation of the poor and women separated per country.
Note: Negative numbers indicate lower levels of representation than the rest of the population.
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Bernauer et al. 89
district magnitude changes from its minimum of 0 (equalling a district magnitude of 1) to its
maximum in the sample at about 5 (148 seats in the median legislator district). In the lower
panel of the figure, the corresponding empirical distribution of this variable is shown. The
negative effect of low income on ideological congruence loses its statistical significance (p <
.05) when the log of the median legislator district magnitude takes values just above 4, which
equals a district size of roughly 60 seats. However, there are only a small number of districts in
the sample larger than this quantity. Regarding gender, the figure confirms that women are on
average not much worse represented than men and that this pattern is not mediated by the elec-
toral rules.
The patterns are less clear for the variable ‘upper tier’ (controlling for district size). The coef-
ficients on female gender and low income refer to the situation with no compensation via the upper
tier of the electoral system. Here, the negative coefficient for low income again indicates that the
poor suffer from a lower ideological congruence. However, this effect remains rather stable across
the range of the variable ‘upper tier’. In other words, the under-representation of the poor is persis-
tent in systems with or without compensation of seats via the upper tier. Figure 5 displays the cor-
responding coefficients. Even for large portions of the seats allocated via upper tiers, the negative
effect of low income remains large, but is a little less pronounced than in systems without
Table 2. Cross-level interactions with the electoral system (dependent variable: individual ideological
Model 3
Country level
Log of median legislator district magnitude (LML) .08 (.03)***
Seat share allocated in upper tier .08 (.02)**
Old democracy .20 (.06)***
Individual level
Low income −.13 (.04)***
Female −.01 (.03)
Cross-level interactions
LML × low income .02 (.01)
Upper tier × low income .00 (.00)
LML × female −.00 (.01)
Upper tier × female −.00 (.00)
Constant −.92 (.09)***
Random intercepts
Variance (countries) .019 (.007)
Variance (individuals) .493 (.003)
Random slopes
Variance (income) .004 (.002)
Variance (female) .003 (.001)
N (countries) 20
N (individuals) 44803
Test vs linear reg. (p) .00
Notes: ** p < .05; *** p < .01. Standard errors in parentheses. All calculations were performed in Stata 12, using the
xtmixed command with the reml (restricted maximum likelihood) algorithm. Missing countries are explained by the
missing variable ‘seat share allocated in the upper tier’, which is sometimes impossible to quantify due to varying com-
pensations depending on the actual electoral results (Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic and Romania).
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90 International Political Science Review 36(1)
compensation, though this effect is not statistically significant. For women, again, no systematic
pattern is visible.
In sum, the findings on the potential moderating effects of the electoral system are mixed but
notable. While larger electoral districts seem to be a remedy against the lower ideological congru-
ence of poor citizens, there is no significant improvement of women’s ideological representation in
larger electoral districts. The seat share allocated in upper tiers yields a similar conclusion, although
less clear-cut. Most of the empirical variation in the proportionality of electoral rules between the
countries in the sample occurs for district magnitude. While larger compensations of disproportion-
ality via seats allocated in upper tiers should have a similar effect to district magnitude, the results
only very tentatively support this expectation. Nevertheless, in the case of poor versus rich citizens,
electoral systems with larger district magnitudes provide a better environment for the representation
of their interests. The considerable gap in ideological representation between low and high incomes
is reduced to statistical insignificance when the district magnitude is large enough.
Figure 4. Graphical presentation of the interaction between low income/gender and the log of median
legislator district magnitude (top panel – marginal effect of low income/gender on the individual ideological
congruence Cij, conditional on the log of median legislator district magnitude; lower panel – distribution of
this moderating factor).
Notes: * Indicates significance at the 95% level. Baseline: high income, male. The figure is based on Model 3 in Table 2.
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Bernauer et al. 91
Several reasons might explain the divergent findings between women and the poor. The pattern
of the representation of women’s interests is considerably more diverse from the outset than that of
poor citizens. Women’s preferences are not as distinct as those of the poor to start with, and in
several nations, their interests are not significantly worse represented by political parties than those
of their male counterparts on average. We still find considerable variation between countries, moti-
vating the analysis of cross-level interactions also for gender. Our argument about the moderating
effect of the electoral rules is largely based on the expectation of more leftist attitudes and a worse
representation of preferences, so it might not be surprising that electoral rules are not good in
explaining the opposite, namely, the over-representation of women’s preferences. Further, the
alignment of women’s interests and the Left–Right dimension is not as straightforward as for poor
citizens. In addition to the economic arguments discussed, women might distinguish themselves
from men more in cultural terms or on distinct women’s issues, such as abortion or maternity pol-
icy (see Schwindt-Bayer and Mishler, 2005). Generally, the Left–Right dimension of political
Figure 5. Graphical presentation of the interaction between low income/gender and share of seats
allocated in upper tiers (top panel – marginal effect of low income/gender on the individual ideological
congruence Cij, conditional on the share of seats allocated in upper tiers; lower panel – distribution of this
moderating factor).
Notes: * Indicates significance at the 95% level. Baseline: high income, male. The figure is based on Model 3 in Table 2.
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92 International Political Science Review 36(1)
competition does not fully capture the complexity of gender-related cleavages. It is more plausible
that redistributive preferences of the poor differ consistently from those of the rich and directly
translate to the Left–Right dimension. Finally, and reflecting critical discussions of groups’ repre-
sentation as unduly ‘essentialist’ (Phillips, 1995), women as a group might have less cohesive
preferences, and, as a result, might be less easily targeted by (small) parties.
In this article, we discuss the ideological representation of historically disadvantaged groups in a
comparative setting. The aim is to add a cross-national comparative perspective to the US literature
on the unequal responsiveness of politicians to different groups of citizens (Bartels, 2008; Gilens,
2005; Griffin and Newman, 2007; Jacobs and Page, 2005; Ura and Ellis, 2008). Our analysis con-
firms that citizens with low incomes are less well represented by political parties as compared with
the more affluent. The results are much less clear-cut in the case of women, as their preferences are
reflected by the party system in some countries better than the preferences of men.
However, our goal is not solely to document the potential under-representation of women and
the poor, but to explore the question of whether systemic factors are responsible for their levels of
representation. We find considerable support for our expectation that the context matters (including
clear variation in the effect of female gender across countries), but are not able to identify the rel-
evant variables equally well for all groups. PR creates party systems in which the preferences of
poor citizens are mirrored more equally. Following Cox (1997), and measuring the proportionality
of the electoral system in terms of the median legislator district magnitude and the share of seats
allocated in upper tiers of the system, multilevel analyses with cross-level interactions reveal that
higher district magnitudes close the gap in ideological representation between poor and rich citi-
zens. As an explanation, parties in more proportional electoral systems will have greater incentives
to take these subgroups of voters into account. In sum, our analysis shows the importance of insti-
tutional design in achieving a more equal political representation of minority groups, and, ulti-
mately, in achieving higher democratic quality (Lijphart, 2012).
Yet, this moderating effect of the electoral system only becomes manifest for subgroups clearly
defined by their low economic status; women’s preferences are not represented in a better way
when the electoral system is more proportional. This result can be seen either as indicating that
men and women are on average equally well represented or as shedding some doubt on the meth-
odology used. Tentatively, the non-finding might be explained by differences between gender and
income groups regarding the relevance of the Left–Right dimension, the cohesiveness of women’s
preferences and, consequently, the incentives for parties to target women directly. This invites
additional research, possibly also in the form of case studies to underpin (or reject) the causal
mechanisms suggested. Along these lines, future studies could explore the role of other mediating
factors (at the macro level) for the relation between subgroup status and representation, including
relative group turnout (Lijphart, 1997), economic inequality (Rodríguez, 2004; Rosset et al., 2013)
or descriptive representation (Griffin and Newman, 2007). These context-level factors could shed
light on the contents of the black box located between electoral rules and the ideological congru-
ence of subgroups or establish independent explanations. Additionally, one of the limitations of
this study is its rather narrow focus on electoral representation. It is clear that women and the poor
also use other channels, including protest movements, to make their specific claims heard (Phillips,
1995; Piven and Cloward, 1977), and that electoral representation by parties can only be related to
government–citizen congruence to a limited extent, let alone explain changes in public policy (for
much more encompassing treatments on the recent rise of economic inequality in the US, see
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Bernauer et al. 93
Bartels, 2008; Hacker and Pierson, 2010; Schlozman et al., 2012). We believe that our findings still
have some implications for government–citizen congruence. If parties are systematically biased
and represent some groups better than others, it is likely that governments elected from among
these parties will also marginalise some groups.
Notwithstanding these limitations, the contribution of our study is its comparative focus with an
emphasis on non-presidential (mostly European) democracies, providing insights into the moderat-
ing power of political institutions able to absorb some of the under-representation of (certain) disad-
vantaged societal subgroups. If segments of society perpetually have a lower political voice, this
carries the risk of policies deepening already-existing inequalities, which can have important conse-
quences for levels of trust in political institutions and for their perceived legitimacy. As reflected in
our findings, proportional electoral rules appear to make it more attractive for political parties to
also attract groups with fewer resources and lower levels of political participation, as office and
policy rewards are more easily achieved. From a normative democratic perspective, it is worrisome
that sub-constituencies are systematically under-represented. Our (partial) finding of the moderating
power of electoral rules introduces some leeway for institutional design as a potential remedy.
All authors contributed equally and appear in alphabetical order. Earlier versions of this article were presented
at the Council for European Studies’ Seventeenth International Conference, Montreal, Canada, 15–17 April
2010, and at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, 22–25 April 2010.
We would like to thank the participants for their useful comments, in particular, André Blais, Delia Dumitrescu,
Peter Esaiasson, Adam Luedtke, Thomas Meyer, Irene Menendez, Shane Singh and Catherine de Vries. We
are also grateful for the valuable advice from the editors and reviewers of IPSR.
This research was supported by the European Science Foundation (grant number 07-HumVIB-FP-007_
1. Gender scholars have long engaged with the question of whether certain institutional settings favour
the representation of women in parliament (see Paxton et al., 2007). This study, however, focuses on
ideological representation and not descriptive representation, which is still assumed to be relevant, but is
black-boxed here.
2. In this study, we focus on ideological representation as a special case of ‘substantive’ or ‘policy’ repre-
sentation (for the concept of representation, see Pitkin, 1967; Schwindt-Bayer and Mishler, 2005).
3. We treat women and the poor as (overlapping) societal groups based on the expectation that they have
distinct preferences. We note that these assumptions could be challenged as false ‘essentialism’ (Phillips,
1995), as multiple identifications exist (which we allow for in our analysis, at least for income and
gender). Group boundaries, especially in the case of the poor, can be blurred and preferences are not
necessarily both distinct from each other and homogeneous within groups (which we control for in our
individual-level analysis to some extent). Still, we regard the identification of groups as an analytically
crucial simplification for our model.
4. The recent rise of right-wing populist parties and evidence that these parties draw their support in par-
ticular from low-income and lower-educated individuals (see, e.g., Ford and Goodwin, 2010) might
make this argument less empirically convincing in the future, though.
5. We note that the so-called ‘modern gender gap’, with women leaning more to the Left than men, is not
visible in all Western countries to the same extent. For example, it is well known that the voting pattern
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94 International Political Science Review 36(1)
in Finland is not showing any sign of a modern gender gap; in contrast, Finnish women are still voting
more often for conservative parties (Hart et al., 2009; Inglehart and Norris, 2000).
6. Please note that there is also a critical debate over whether such a link can be assumed, for example, see
the debate in Politics & Gender (2006), 2(4): 491–530.
7. As this variable is highly dependent on the electoral design, we do not explicitly include the number of
parties in the analysis, but assume a connection between electoral rules, the number of parties and indi-
vidual policy congruence.
8. Our sample comprises elections from a period of 10 years. Controlling for possible temporal effects does
not alter the results presented here and has very little substantial influence on the dependent variable.
9. The exact wording of this question is: ‘In politics people sometimes talk of left and right. Where would
you place yourself on a scale from 0 to 10 where 0 means the left and 10 means the right?’ (A3031
and B3045). Other policy positions of voters are not available in the CSES. As argued earlier, there is
a theoretical connection linking the preferences of both women and the poor to the general (economic)
Left–Right scale.
10. More precisely, the experts were asked about their judgement of the party position on the Left–Right
scale (A5004, B5018). Alternatively, the party positions can also be estimated using the Benoit–Laver
expert survey data (Benoit and Laver, 2006). These two measures of party positions correlate very highly
(Pearson’s correlation coefficient Module 1 (1996–2001): 0.89; Module 2 (2001–2006): 0.92). The CSES
expert data that are part of the contextual survey accompanying the individual CSES surveys carry the
advantage that they are measured on the same scale as the citizen preferences and time variant. To avoid
additional (problematic) rescaling, we decided to use the CSES expert data. The results are robust against
the use of Benoit–Laver expert party positions.
11. We note that other options to calculate the positions of parties exist. First, we can rely on party manifesto
data, as collected by the Comparative Manifesto Project (CMP) (Budge et al., 2001; Klingemann et al.,
2006). The use of this type of data carries the large disadvantage that by focusing on the percentage of
Left–Right statements, we capture more the salience a party puts on Left–Right issues than a party’s
substantial Left–Right position. Another option is to estimate the party placement as the mean voters’
evaluation of a party, available in the CSES survey. Our results are also robust against this variation of
the operationalisation. However, as we deem likely that the individual idiosyncratic factors do not cancel
out completely – as, for example, the position of a voter’s own party is often evaluated differently from
the rest of the parties – we prefer to operationalise party positions with expert data. A last option to esti-
mate party positions is the use of MP surveys (see, e.g., Esaiasson and Holmberg, 1996). Here, we again
run into the problem of data availability and cross-national comparability.
12. One could argue that the downside of this measure is that we lose the direct connection between indi-
viduals and parties as the party with the closest distance is not always the party voted for. However,
measures based on the distance between the party chosen and individual positions are even more prone
to flaws, such as lower probabilities among the poor of choosing a party based on distance.
13. The models are robust against a specification of the lowest income quintile as a ‘low-income group’.
14. Note that this differs from the median district magnitude, as Cox (1997) weights the district magnitudes
by their size (i.e. the number of legislators elected, hence the name median ‘legislator’ district magni-
tude), and then picks the median value.
15. Specifying elections instead of countries as the second level does not affect our results.
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Author biographies
Julian Bernauer is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Political Science, University of Berne,
Switzerland. His research interests include political representation and the study of empirical patterns of
democracy. Recent work has appeared in Comparative Political Studies, the European Journal of Political
Research and Electoral Studies.
Nathalie Giger is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Mannheim Centre for European Social
Research (MZES) and the Department of Political Science at the University of Mannheim, Germany. Her
research interests lie in the linkage between citizens and political elites, in particular, in political representa-
tion and the electoral consequences of public policy. Her work has appeared in the European Journal of
Political Research, West European Politics and European Sociological Review, among others.
Jan Rosset is a PhD student at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, and a research associate at the Swiss
Centre of Expertise in Social Sciences (FORS). His research centres on the relationship between economic
and political inequality and on the political representation of income groups. His work has been published or
is forthcoming in the Journal of Legislative Studies, Representation and West European Politics.
at Universitaet Mannheim on January 12, 2015ips.sagepub.comDownloaded from
... Premièrement, nous évaluons la congruence entre les citoyen(ne)s et le parti politique qui apparaît le plus proche idéologiquement. Ce lien est essentiel afin d'observer si tous les citoyen(ne)s ont une offre politique équivalente (Giger et al. 2012;Bernauer et al. 2015). Par exemple, un groupe pour lequel le parti le plus proche serait plus éloigné aurait davantage de difficulté à véhiculer ses préférences politiques dans le processus démocratique. ...
... L'étude de Rosset et Stecker (2019) confirme également ce résultat et souligne que c'est particulièrement sur les enjeux de redistribution économique que les individus moins fortunés subissent un déficit de représentation par leurs gouvernements, alors que pour les individus moins éduqués c'est sur les questions d'intégration européenne que le désavantage apparaît. 3 Alors que ces résultats révèlent la présence d'un déficit de représentation subit par les individus moins fortunés en relation avec leurs gouvernements, Giger et al. (2012) et Bernauer et al. (2015 soulignent que ces citoyen(ne)s sont aussi plus éloignés idéologiquement des partis politiques. ...
... Par contre, les recherches indiquent que les femmes semblent moins désavantagées que les individus moins fortunés et éduqués. En effet, l'étude de Bernauer et al. (2015) démontre que ces dernières sont aussi distantes que les hommes du parti qui leur apparaît comme étant le plus proche idéologiquement. Cette conclusion est partagée par Ferland (2020) suivant l'analyse de la congruence idéologique entre les citoyen(ne)s et le parti pour lequel ceux-ci (celles-ci) ont voté à l'élection. ...
Résumé L'article évalue l’état de la représentation substantive des femmes, des individus moins éduqués, moins fortunés, des jeunes ainsi que des allophones en politique provinciale québécoise. La représentation des citoyen(ne)s par les partis politiques est conceptualisée selon trois types de congruence idéologique: 1) le parti étant idéologiquement le plus proche des citoyen(ne)s; 2) le parti pour lequel les citoyen(ne)s ont voté; et 3) le système partisan. Nous évaluons ces formes de représentation face à cinq dimensions structurant la politique québécoise, permettant ainsi une approche multidimensionnelle à la représentation : l'axe souverainiste-fédéraliste, l'axe gauche-droite, les dépenses sociales, les dépenses en environnement, ainsi que l'immigration. Nos résultats présentent un portrait complexe de la représentation. Bien que certains groupes apparaissent moins bien représentés (en particulier, les femmes et les individus moins éduqués) aucun groupe ne l'est de façon systématique, et certains groupes sont parfois même avantagés (en particulier, les jeunes).
... This debate most prominently addresses groups like women (e.g. Mansbridge, 1999;Bernauer et al., 2015) or relatively poorer people (e.g. Elsässer et al., 2017;Bernauer et al., 2015), because structural inequality prevents these groups from receiving political representation (ibid.). ...
... Mansbridge, 1999;Bernauer et al., 2015) or relatively poorer people (e.g. Elsässer et al., 2017;Bernauer et al., 2015), because structural inequality prevents these groups from receiving political representation (ibid.). In case policies have a tendency of not being an adequate representation, scholars call this phenomenon a skew in responsiveness (Elsässer et al., 2017), or a participation divide (Lijphart, 1997). ...
... Considerable attention has been devoted to the extent to which contextual factors, such as economic development or national architectural structures, lead to more egalitarian outcomes in political participation (Kittilson and Schwindt-Bayer, 2012), interest intermediation (Simmons, 2015) or political interest (Fraile and Gomez, 2017). Yet, these findings have been criticised by other authors with contradicting evidence (Bernauer et al, 2015;Nir and McClurg, 2015). In both cases, they overlook the fact that most citizens seldom experience politics directly. ...
The media plays a prominent role in shaping individuals’ declared levels of political interest, but its role regarding gender differences remains largely unexplored. To what extent are media contents and their reflection of gender roles related to declared levels of political interest in men and women? This article argues that more egalitarian media environments, where a larger share of women are represented, should be associated with smaller gender differences in political interest. Data from the European Social Survey and the Global Media Monitoring Programme have been merged to test this argument. Results suggest that more women being reported shows some association with more minor differences between men’s and women’s declared levels of political interest. This difference is particularly present when the increase occurs in more hard-news-oriented media like the printed press and in topics like economic affairs, or when more women are quoted as experts, which are traditionally identified as more masculinised.
... democracies, elected representatives' own political preferences and positions seem to reflect more closely the preferences of more-affluent citizens than they do the preferences of less-affluent citizens (e.g., Bernauer et al. 2015;Giger et al. 2012;Lupu and Warner 2017;2022a;Schakel and Hakhverdian 2018). Of course, even if legislator themselves largely agree with more-affluent citizens, we might expect electoral incentives to induce them to still respond to the demands of a majority of citizens-assuming they have some information about citizens' preferences (see Butler 2014). ...
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This working paper is an advanced (not yet final) draft of the introductory chapter for Unequal Democracies: Public Opinion, Responsiveness, and Redistribution in An Era of Rising Economic Inequality, to be published by Cambridge University, with Lupu and Pontusson as editors. The appendix lists the chapters that will be part of the volume (and their authors). The introductory chapter provides an overview of trends in inequality and redistribution over the last three decades and summarizes the main themes developed in the rest of the volume.
... While overlapping opinions or programmatic positions are not equal to an active representation of interests, congruence is often regarded as an important precondition for substantive representation (Miller & Stokes 1963). Focusing on differences across income groups, several authors document that politicians' or parties' positions are ideologically more closely aligned with those of richer citizens (Adams & Ezrow 2009, Bernauer et al. 2015, Lupu & Warner 2022, Persson 2021, Rosset 2013, Rosset & Stecker 2019, Schakel & Burgoon 2022, Schakel & Hakhverdian 2018. ...
In this review, we focus on political inequality in rich democracies. In the two main sections, we look at participation and representation, respectively. The former discusses whether rising income inequality and the weakening of trade unions have led to higher levels of inequality in participation. The latter looks at substantive and descriptive representation and asks how they might be linked. Research highlights that people with fewer individual resources participate much less than those with more resources, and collective organizations lose their ability to counter these trends. In terms of representation, the pattern is very similar. Not only are the opinions of decision-makers more congruent with those of the better off but policy choices also reflect their preferences more clearly. As the social distance between rulers and ruled increases, representative democracy gets more biased in favor of higher-status social groups. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Political Science, Volume 26 is June 2023. Please see for revised estimates.
Greater party system polarization has recently been shown to influence voter turnout under conditions of higher income inequality. This article builds on these findings by introducing into the framework the policy positions of social democratic parties. It does so through multilevel regression on a sample of 30 advanced democracies in 111 elections, from 1996 to 2019. In doing so, it contributes to the identification of party policy offerings as a mechanism moderating inequality and turnout. It finds that income inequality significantly reduces voter turnout, which is substantially magnified when social democratic parties adopt rightward welfare state positions. It also finds that social democratic parties can largely mitigate the negative effects of inequality on turnout for low‐income individuals by offering leftist welfare state positions. The findings carry important implications for understanding the electoral consequences of both party positioning and rising inequality in advanced democracies. Related Articles Simon, Christopher A., and Raymond Tatalovich. 2022. “The Turnout Myth and Referendum Voting in the United States.” Politics & Policy 50(3): 472–86. . Stockemer, Daniel, and Stephanie Parent. 2013. “The Inequality Turnout Nexus: New Evidence from Presidential Elections.” Politics & Policy 42(2): 221–45. . Wilford, Allan M. 2020. “Understanding the Competing Effects of Economic Hardship and Income Inequality on Voter Turnout.” Politics & Policy 48(2): 314–38. .
In recent decades, a growing body of scholarship has shed light on the persistent inequalities in political representation, revealing that citizens are far from equal in their access to, and experience of, representation. While ample research has focused on the issue of under-representation, scarce attention has been given to the implications of descriptive and substantive under-representation on the perception of being substantively represented, as reflected in citizens’ satisfaction with implemented policies. This study aims to make a significant contribution to the existing literature by investigating the substantive representation of descriptively under-represented citizens in the context of Belgium. Specifically, this research examines the intricate dynamics of substantive (under-)representation with political institutions (government, parliament and political parties) and citizens’ perceptions of being represented in terms of satisfaction with government policies. The findings reveal intriguing variations in different measures of substantive representation, highlighting the need for critical review and further investigation in future studies.
In a representative democracy, politicians should either implement policies that voters want or policies that politicians believe are in voters long‐term interest, even if voters currently oppose them. The exact balance between these goals is debatable and politicians' policy engagement can tempt them to dismiss voters' preferences and resist information counter to their own policy position. In this paper, we discuss Sweden's generous migration policy and how it can serve as an example where politicians' policy engagement led them to a overly optimistic view of the implications of welcoming a large influx of refugees. Using detailed, repeated, survey data on members of parliament, we show that Swedish politicians favored a much more generous policy toward accepting refugees than voters for a long period of time. Neither observable factors nor expert knowledge can explain this difference between voters and politicians. A more likely explanations is wishful thinking and policy engagement from politicians that continued until political competition increased.
Previous research has shown that elected officials are more responsive to the opinions of high-income citizens than to those of middle and working-class citizens in the United States. This is often explained by the fact that economic elites make campaign contributions to political elites, leading to decision-making that aligns with the preferences of the affluent. This paper examines the opinion-policy link in Swedish politics, where campaign contributions are relatively low. Despite this, the study finds that high-income citizens still receive the most policy responsiveness. Three alternative possible explanations are discussed. Do high-income citizens receive more responsiveness because (a) they are better able to put issues on the political agenda, (b) because they are easier to satisfy and prefer ‘cheaper’ symbolic policy reforms, while low-income citizens prefer more costly policies or (c) because the status quo bias works to the advantage of high-income citizens?
This article explores the relationship between descriptive representation, patrimonial voting, turnout, and voting patterns in small ethnic groups. It argues that the combination between patrimonial voting and descriptive representation marginalizes the importance of substantive representation, leading to a decline in turnout, but simultaneously to cliental loyalty networks among voters that shape voting preferences. It utilizes the case of the Druze in Israel and analyzes their voting patterns in order to establish the argument that the mechanism that leads to party preferences among minority voters, namely, clientalistic accountability, is the same mechanism that renders descriptive over-representation devoid of substantive impact on state policies directed towards the minority. Our aim is to enrich the literature on the affinity between minority descriptive representation, patrimonial voting, clientalist accountability, and political efficacy. We demonstrate that Druze candidates in Zionist parties, especially those close to decision-making circles by being part of the governmental coalition, establish a broad network of supporters based on family ties, personally benefiting voters by integrating them or their relatives into high-income jobs, making their cliental preferences rational. This creates the gap between mere descriptive representation of minority groups and the substantial representation of their communal interests in “patronage democracy.”
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This article assesses the claim that proportional representation (PR) fosters a closer correspondence between the views of citizens and the positions of the government. The study uses the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems data set and compares respondents’ self-placements on a Left-Right scale with placements of cabinet parties’ locations in 31 election studies. The authors argue that PR has two contradictory consequences. On one hand, PR leads to more parties and more choice for voters; but these parties are less centrist, and this increases the overall distance between voters and parties. On the other hand, PR increases the likelihood of coalition governments; this pulls the government toward the center of the policy spectrum and reduces the distance between the government and voters. These two contradictory effects of PR wash out, and the net overall impact of PR on congruence is nil. The data support the authors’ interpretation.
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The paper reviews the debate over the various dimensions of electoral systems. It presents the major options and the main empirical and normative arguments in support of each of them. The objective is to look at each option from the perspective of its proponents and to summarize their reasoning as accurately as possible. A good case can be made for each option. The paper also assesses the empirical arguments in the debate through a systematic review of the evidence. In most cases the evidence tends to substantiate the arguments, though often with nuances. Finally, the paper identifies the major values invoked in the debate. These values closely correspond to what the literature suggests as the basic functions of democratic representation.
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While it is often assumed that policymakers favor the interests of some citizens at the expense of others, it is not always evident when and how group's interests differ or what it means when they do. Who Gets Represented? challenges the usual assumption that the preferences of any one group-women, African Americans, or the middle class-are incompatible with the preferences of other groups. The book analyzes differences across income, education, racial, and partisan groups and investigates whether and how differences in group opinion matter with regard to political representation. Part I examines opinions among social and racial groups. Relying on an innovative matching technique, contributors Marisa Abrajano and Keith Poole link respondents in different surveys to show that racial and ethnic groups do not, as previously thought, predictably embrace similar attitudes about social welfare. Katherine Cramer Walsh finds that, although preferences on health care policy and government intervention are often surprisingly similar across class lines, different income groups can maintain the same policy preferences for different reasons. Part II turns to how group interests translate into policy outcomes, with a focus on differences in representation between income groups. James Druckman and Lawrence Jacobs analyze Ronald Reagan's response to private polling data during his presidency and show how different electorally significant groups-Republicans, the wealthy, religious conservatives-wielded disproportionate influence on Reagan's policy positions. Christopher Wlezien and Stuart Soroka show that politician's responsiveness to the preferences of constituents within different income groups can be surprisingly even-handed. Analyzing data from 1876 to the present, Wesley Hussey and John Zaller focus on the important role of political parties, vis-à-vis constituent's preferences, for legislator's behavior. Who Gets Represented? upends several long-held assumptions, among them the growing conventional wisdom that income plays in American politics and the assumption that certain groups will always-or will never-have common interests. Similarities among group opinions are as significant as differences for understanding political representation. Who Gets Represented? offers important and surprising answers to the question it raises.
Politically active individuals and organizations make huge investments of time, energy, and money to influence everything from election outcomes to congressional subcommittee hearings to local school politics, while other groups and individual citizens seem woefully underrepresented in our political system. This book is a comprehensive and systematic examination of political voice in America, and its findings are sobering. The book looks at the political participation of individual citizens alongside the political advocacy of thousands of organized interests—membership associations such as unions, professional associations, trade associations, and citizens groups, as well as organizations like corporations, hospitals, and universities. Drawing on numerous in-depth surveys of members of the public as well as the largest database of interest organizations ever created—representing more than 35,000 organizations over a 25-year period—this book conclusively demonstrates that American democracy is marred by deeply ingrained and persistent class-based political inequality. The well-educated and affluent are active in many ways to make their voices heard, while the less advantaged are not. This book reveals how the political voices of organized interests are even less representative than those of individuals, how political advantage is handed down across generations, how recruitment to political activity perpetuates and exaggerates existing biases, how political voice on the Internet replicates these inequalities—and more. In a true democracy, the preferences and needs of all citizens deserve equal consideration. Yet equal consideration is only possible with equal citizen voice. This book reveals how far we really are from the democratic ideal and how hard it would be to attain it.
Leaders of political parties often have to choose between conflicting objectives, such as influence on policy, control of the government, and support among the voters. This book examines the behaviour of political parties in situations where they experience conflict between two or more important objectives. The volume contains a theoretical introduction and case studies of party leaders in Germany, Italy, France and Spain as well as six smaller European democracies. Each case focuses on the behaviour of one of several parties in situations of goal conflict, such as the 'historic compromise' in Italy, the 1982 Wende in West Germany, the making of the new Swedish constitution in the 1970s, and the termination of the Austrian 'black-red' grand coalition. In their conclusions, the editors discuss how such leadership decisions can be understood and examine the causes of different choices among party leaders.
Popular elections are at the heart of representative democracy. Thus, understanding the laws and practices that govern such elections is essential to understanding modern democracy. In this book, Cox views electoral laws as posing a variety of coordination problems that political forces must solve. Coordination problems - and with them the necessity of negotiating withdrawals, strategic voting, and other species of strategic coordination - arise in all electoral systems. This book employs a unified game-theoretic model to study strategic coordination worldwide and that relies primarily on constituency-level rather than national aggregate data in testing theoretical propositions about the effects of electoral laws. This book also considers not just what happens when political forces succeed in solving the coordination problems inherent in the electoral system they face but also what happens when they fail.