Research

Competing for New Votes: Mobilization of Women in the Wake of Democratization

Mona Morgan-Collins

How were newly enfranchised women mobilized? I argue that the mobilization of early women voters was on average more costly than men’s, which propelled elites to mobilize less women than men. Drawing on elite models of mobilization, I theorize that the type of electoral system shapes the extent to which parties were incentivized to mobilize women in a given within country locality. Under SMDs, parties mobilized women in the most competitive districts, where they could lower the costs of women’s mobilization through existing infrastructures. Under PR, parties were incentivized to mobilize women in the most uncompetitive within-district localities, where they could lower the costs accordingly. In testing the theory, I analyse fine-grained sex-separated turnout data after the introduction of women’s suffrage and PR in Norway between 1909 and 1924. I find support for my argument. In elections under SMDs, the gender turnout gap closes in the most competitive districts. In elections under PR, the gender turnout gap closes in partisan strongholds within districts. Shifting from SMD to PR changes patterns in women’s mobilization consistent with my argument. Finally, utilizing election data from New Zealand, Finland, Sweden and Austria, I show that these patterns of women’s mobilization are generalizable across countries in the first suffrage wave. These findings challenge the conventional wisdom that suffrage ‘automatically’ improves substantive representation of new electorates.

Return to Research page