Women, power and political representation

Kamala Harris. Jacinda Ardern. Annamie Paul. In Canada and abroad, women are blazing new trails as political leaders. In Women, Power, and Political Representation, a new volume that I edited with Roosmarijn de Geus, Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant and Peter Loewen, contributors examine the contours and challenges of women’s political representation. Published by University of Toronto Press, the book includes 18 chapters, written in an accessible format that is ideal for students and journalists.

The Hill Times has named it one of the Best Books of 2021, and Rosie Campbell, Professor Politics and Director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership at King’s College, London calls it “comprehensive account of the state of women’s political presence . . . that showcases cutting-edge research regarding women’s under-representation from diverse perspectives.”

Overview of the BookHill Times Best Books of 2021

Roosmarijn de Geus, Erin Tolley, Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant and Peter John Loewen, eds. 2021. Women, Power and Political Representation: Canadian and Comparative Perspectives. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. https://utorontopress.com/9781487525200/women-power-and-political-representation/

How diverse is Canadian politics?

Much has been written about Canada’s diversity, but is that diversity reflected in our elected institutions? Our new dataset suggests not really. I worked with Marc André Bodet, Melanee Thomas, and Anna Johnson to create the first publicly available district-level dataset that tracks candidate gender, race, Indigenous background, age and occupation for federal elections from 2008-2019. It includes information on more than 4,500 candidates who ran for the major federal parties, and also has variables on incumbency, electoral outcome, and district competitiveness.

The dataset can be downloaded and used to answer a variety of questions about diversity in Canadian politics. It can also be combined with other datasets to understand the relationship between diversity, media coverage, political donations, and representation.

Overview of the DatasetDownload the Data from Dataverse

Anna Elizabeth Johnson; Erin Tolley; Melanee Thomas; Marc A. Bodet, 2021, “Dataset on the Demographics of Canadian Federal Election Candidates (2008-2019)”, https://doi.org/10.7910/DVN/MI5XQ6, Harvard Dataverse, V1, UNF:6:l3XZtRo/Ob017+yomN//hw== [fileUNF]


Gender and donations in Canadian elections

Gender gaps in voter turnout and electoral representation have narrowed, but gaps in other forms of political participation remain.

In “Who Controls the Purse Strings: A Longitudinal Study of Gender and Donations in Canadian Politics,” Randy Besco, Semra Sevi and I examine gendered differences in donations. Donations are important because they furnish campaigns with necessary resources, provide voters with cues about candidate viability, and influence which issues politicians prioritize. This article has been accepted for publication in Politics & Gender.

We exploit an administrative dataset to analyze donations to Canadian parties and candidates over a 25-year period. We use machine learning to estimate donor gender and then link these data to candidate and party characteristics. Importantly, and in contrast to null effects from research on gender affinity voting, we find women are more likely to donate to women candidates, but women donate less often and in smaller amounts than men. The lack of formal gendered donor networks and the reliance on more informal, male-dominated local connections may influence women donors’ behavior. Change over a quarter-century has been modest, and large gender gaps persist.

View this Preprint

Tolley, Erin, Randy Besco and Semra Sevi (2020). Who Controls the Purse Strings? A Longitudinal Study of Gender and Donations in Canadian Politics. Politics & Gender, 1-29. doi:10.1017/S1743923X20000276

Ethnicity and political donations

Despite increased attention to ethnic differences in political behavior, there is little research on ethnic minorities as political donors and almost none outside the United States.

We draw on an administrative dataset of contributions to candidates, which we augment with donors’ ethnicity. Focusing on the 2015 Canadian election, we find ethnic minorities are generally less likely to donate than other Canadians, but South Asian Canadians donate at astonishingly high rates. Contrary to previous research, there are only modest differences in the size of donations across ethnic groups.

Linking donation data to candidate characteristics and census data reveals substantial co-ethnic affinity effects among Chinese and South Asian Canadians. Even in the absence of co-ethnic candidates, however, South Asians donate at a substantial rate. The proportion of donations to out-of-district and weaker candidates is also quite high, which could signal symbolic considerations are especially important to ethnic minority donors. The substantial heterogeneity between ethnic groups and the different effects on rates versus size of donations add important nuance to our knowledge of ethnicity and political behaviour.

View this Preprint

Randy Besco & Erin Tolley (2020) Ethnic group differences in donations to electoral candidates, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies,DOI: 10.1080/1369183X.2020.1804339

Race and candidate recruitment

There is growing attention to the descriptive representation of racialized minorities in politics. However, because of a systematic lack of data on nomination contestants’ racial backgrounds, most research looks at outcomes on election day, thus ignoring the crucial stages that help to shape minority candidate emergence.

Using a unique data set on nomination contestants and local party presidents in a recent Canadian election, this study demonstrates that while district diversity is one determinant of minority candidate emergence, the presence of a racialized local party president is also substantively important. In other words, if you’re a prospective candidate, who you know matters. The findings show that racialized party gatekeepers play a key role in the emergence of minority candidates, and these networks matter most in the districts with lower levels of racial diversity. The findings further suggest the general pattern of left-center parties facilitating minority candidate emergence may not apply in the Canadian context.

View this Preprint

Tolley, Erin. 2019. Who You Know: Local Party Presidents and Minority Candidate Emergence. Electoral Studies 58: 70-79. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.electstud.2019.02.007

Do women do better in municipal politics?

Conventional wisdom suggests that women might find greater electoral success in local politics than in politics at the federal and provincial level. Local politics is viewed as more part-time, less competitive, and closer to women’s perceived policy interests. But is this true? Do women do better in municipal politics?

Using a longitudinal data set that traces women’s presence in elected office in Canada, this study casts doubt on the notion of a municipal advantage. It finds instead that women are present in roughly equivalent proportions across all three levels of government and that their numerical presence has rarely exceeded 25 percent at any level of government. The article thus challenges a pervasive theme in the literature on women in politics.

View Article

Erin Tolley. 2011. Do Women “Do Better” in Municipal Politics? Electoral Representation across Three Levels of Government. Canadian Journal of Political Science 44(3): 573-594.