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

Photo credit: Guillaume Levasseur, Le Devoir

The election of Valérie Plante

Although municipal politics is often viewed as more open to women, electoral under-representation persists, even at this level, and it is particularly acute in the mayor’s office. In Canada, just 18% of municipal mayors are women. In 2017, Valérie Plante broke the glass ceiling, becoming Montreal’s first woman mayor in the city’s 400-year history. Media coverage of her victory drew attention to her gender, but did gender matter all that much to voters?

In “Gender, Municipal Party Politics, and Montreal’s First Woman Mayor,” Mireille Paquet and I show how gender did and did not influence the outcome. A survey of Montreal electors reveals that gender was not a salient factor in their voice choice. However, as we argue, gender did shape the organization of the campaign and party. This article has been accepted for publication in the Canadian Journal of Urban Research.

We suggest that Plante’s victory can be explained in part by a strategy that showcased a less leader-centric party and a degendered campaign that helped counteract stereotypes about women’s unsuitability for positions of political leadership. Rather than positioning parties as a barrier to women’s political participation, as most past research does, we theorize them as a mobilizing institution with the potential to facilitate women’s electoral success at the local level. We heed the call for more research on local politics and, in doing so, our analysis highlights the evolution of municipal political parties from highly personalized, singularly focused electoral entities to more institutionalized and embedded features of local governance.

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Tolley, Erin and Mireille Paquet (2021). Gender, Municipal Party Politics, and Montreal’s First Woman Mayor. Canadian Journal of Urban Research 30(1): 40-52.

Photo credit: Guillaume Levasseur, Le Devoir

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.

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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.