Gender Quotas in Politics

Gender quotas in politics are rules that aim at providing opportunities for women to be in parliament or to appear on candidate lists in elections for political office.

In this post, we discuss the types of gender quotas in politics, how parliaments in democracy adopt quotas, whether they are effective in placing more women in positions of power, and the consequences of gender quotas for democracy and society.

At a glance

  1. Types of Gender Quotas
  2. How are quotas adopted?
  3. Are gender quotas in politics effective?
  4. What are the consequences of gender quotas for politics and society?
  5. Conclusion: Gender Quotas in Politics Matter

Types of Gender Quotas

There is some form of quota in almost every European country, but the form of the quota varies by the country’s socio-cultural context, its fit with the electoral system, whether it is for candidate lists or seats in parliament, how and by how much the candidate list should be structured, and if it is for local, national, or European Parliament elections, to name a few dimensions.

The plethora of dimensions to quota policies worldwide has led scholars to pragmatically declare that if we want to study quota causes and consequences, we should match specific definitions to relevant research questions (e.g. Krook 2014: 10).

To simplify but not terribly over-simplify matters, we can say that in Europe there are a few main gender quota types.

Reserved Seats

This is a set percentage or seat allocation for women.

Legislative or Electoral law quotas

Quotas are mandated by a specific electoral or constitutional law about the form of quotas and, perhaps, how they are implemented and enforced.

Voluntary party quotas

Political parties adopt quotas within their own party organization, but are not compelled by a national law of any kind to do so.

Reserved seats directly place women into parliament and are rare. Legislative and voluntary quotas are about increasing the number of women as candidates and are popular.

How are quotas adopted?

There are so many types of quotas and quota regimes that there is no one path to this policy. The main, interlacing factors to consider are the:

  • Form of the quota (reserved seat, legislative, or voluntary party quota);
  • National and transnational factors and actors, including their motivations (e.g. activists, NGOs, and parties);
  • Extent to which the quota push was top-down (i.e. elite driven) or bottom-up (mass or interest group driven);
  • Historical context (Krook 2006, 2007; Dahlerup and Antic Gaber 2017).

Scholars consider women and women’s interest groups in the form of activist organizations, NGOs, INGOs, and WINGOs, as important mobilizing forces that move quotas from idea to reality (Krook 2007; Tripp and Kang 2008; Hughes et al 2017).

At the same time, the political elite may see electoral advantages for quota adoption (for themselves or for their party) or are simply driven by the equality principle behind it (Krook 2007; Caul 2001). Indeed, Poland’s adoption of a legislative gender quota was a result of simultaneous bottom-up and top-down approaches as women’s groups among activists and NGOs coordinated with a group of women from the Sejm (Króliczek 2012; Gwiazda 2015; Fuszara 2017; Śledzińska-Simon and Bodnar 2013).

A main path has been the transnational diffusion of both quota policy and implementation ideas (Krook 2006; Hughes et al 2015). International bodies such as the United Nations and the European Union have, through democracy promotion policies that encourage Western notions of gender equality norms, played an important role in the diffusion of gender quotas, especially for developing countries and EU hopefuls (Krook and O’Brien 2010; Bush 2011; Rosen 2017). Late adopters to quotas follow the trail left by early adopters: the proliferation of quotas has led to the greater proliferation of quotas (Paxton and Hughes 2015).

The path toward gender quota policy is neither smooth nor straight as parties and parliamentarians have sought to deny access and entry (Krook 2016; Dahlerup and Freidenvall 2010). Access and entry are controlled, in part, by leftist parties who tend to support quota adoption and, once in office, attempt to legislate them into existence (Caul 2001). Leftist encouragement is a long-standing factor, but in South East Europe, some centrist and rightist parties have outpaced the left in promoting women in parliament (Rashkova and Zankina 2017).

Parties matter. Party ideology is important but it does not explain everything. Party pragmatism in terms of how quotas can benefit party electoral success is another powerful explanation (Murray et al 2012). A pragmatic perspective sees parties as cost-benefit electoral calculators where ideology plays second fiddle to gaining seats by any means at their disposal.

Are gender quotas in politics effective?

As to whether quotas put more women in office, the answer is yes, clearly, electoral quotas lead to more women in parliament.

“Yet,” Krook (2106) reminds us, “in the vast majority of cases, elections produce lower – sometimes much lower – numbers of women in parliament than the proportions identified in quota policies” (268). 

Numeric gain depends on the electoral system (Paxton et al 2007), but a more important factor is where women are placed on the ballot and the enforcement of the policy (Schwindt-Bayer 2009).

As with all things, intersectionality matters. Gender intersects with ethnicity and other potential points of advantage and disadvantage as personal identities can translate into experiences of inequality. Much of the quotas and intersectionality literature is on gender and ethnicity. The ethnic situation and other aspects of the power structure combine to make gender quotas more or less effective for women of particular intersections (Hughes 2011; Celis et al 2014).

Murray et al’s (2012) “pragmatic parties” may see and act on the advantages of gender quotas, but parties seeking diversity in their candidate lists may select ethnic minority women over ethnic minority men (Celis et al 2014). The particular effect of quota regime on a particular intersection depends on the form of the quota (see Hughes 2011: Table 5, p. 616).

For example, voluntary party quotas are more likely to place ethnic majority women in parliament than they are to place ethnic minority women or men (Hughes 2011), whereas legislated quotas help ethnic majority women more, but also help ethnic minority women to a non-trivial degree. As Hughes (2011: 616) states: “… quotas designed to increase the representation of one marginalized group appear to come often at the expense of other marginalized groups, rather than majority men.”  

What are the consequences of gender quotas for politics and society?

Another view of “effective” is beyond seat gains and toward other consequences. Parliamentary seats for women are one gain, but for implementing gender quota policies, there are other possible gains. Those gains are largely connected with how the political, economic, and social landscape changes when exposed to the need and pressure to place women into powerful positions. The changes beyond seat attainment are context-dependent and are not often explicitly stated in the text of quota policies.

In sum, quotas are effective in that they open the political gate for more women, but the exact consequence is not always in the way the policy explicitly states. 

While parties may be reluctant to change, the combined push for quotas and the adoption of quota policy pressures the parties themselves to change. Parties change by taking gender equality seriously: “The main effect of properly implemented quota systems,” Dahlerup (2007) writes, “is that they make the political parties start recruiting women in a serious way” (88). In the early stages of the policy, however, quotas may not be enough to take down and remake male dominated party structures (Verge and De la Fuente 2014).

Quotas also impact the composition of parliaments and the policy they discuss. While the obvious effect is greater gender diversity, gender quotas may also make the European Parliament a more inclusive place by reducing differences in legislative experience (Aldrich and Daniel 2019).

Case studies of Italy (Baltrunaite 2014), Sweden (Besley et al 2017), and Germany (Xydias 2007) have shown how quotas can change parliament. In direct contrast to rhetorical fears that the so-called “quota women,” who were elected with the assistance of quotas, would be inferior in terms of qualifications, the latest social science evidence shows that they are no different than any other parliamentarian (Allen et al 2016; see also Nugent and Krook 2015).

Quotas have a larger societal effect by opening new doors for women in other realms of social life.

Gender quotas in parliament lead to more women in leadership positions throughout the political structure (O’Brien and Rickne 2016). They also lead to a growth in the acceptance of women in politics and other occupations. France, for example, moved from being strongly against gender quotas, to reluctantly passing a gender quota electoral law, to rapidly expanding toward gender quotas in other occupations – all within just two decades (Lépinard 2016).

The gender quota literature has expanded from quotas in politics to quotas in corporations (e.g. Hughes et al 2017; Meier 2013). The societal result of quotas is that women attain positions of power that society had long deemed out of bounds (Meier and Lombardo 2013; Xydias 2014). 

Conclusion: Gender Quotas in Politics Matter

  • While there are many definitions of gender quotas, scholars identify three main types: reserved seat, electoral (i.e. legislated), and voluntary party.
  • The paths to implementation wind according to the type of quota and the political and social context of the quota push.
  • Quotas are effective, but they tend to put more ethnic majority women in parliament.
  • The effectiveness does not stop there: quotas, by placing more women in places of power, lead to changes in parliament and parties, to new legislation that benefit women, and to transformation of the society in general.

This was based on the book chapter, “An Introduction to Gender Quotas in Europe,” by Joshua K. Dubrow and Adrianna Zabrzewska.

Readings: Gender Quotas in Politics

Aldrich, Andrea S., and William T. Daniel. “The Consequences of Quotas: Assessing the Effect of Varied Gender Quotas on Legislator Experience in the European Parliament.” Politics & Gender (2019): 1-30.

Allen, Peter, David Cutts, and Rosie Campbell. “Measuring the quality of politicians elected by gender quotas–are they any different?.” Political Studies 64, no. 1 (2016): 143-163.

Ballington, Julie, and Francesca Binda, eds. “The implementation of quotas: European experiences.” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, IDEA, in collaboration with European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, 2006.

Baltrunaite, Audinga, Piera Bello, Alessandra Casarico, and Paola Profeta. “Gender Quotas and the Quality of Politicians.” Journal of Public Economics 118 (2014): 62-74.

Besley, Timothy, Olle Folke, Torsten Persson, and Johanna Rickne. “Gender quotas and the crisis of the mediocre man: Theory and evidence from Sweden.” American Economic Review 107, no. 8 (2017): 2204-42.

Bush, Sarah Sunn. “International politics and the spread of quotas for women in legislatures.” International Organization 65, no. 1 (2011): 103-137.

Caul, Miki. “Political parties and the adoption of candidate gender quotas: A cross–national analysis.” Journal of Politics 63, no. 4 (2001): 1214-1229.

Celis, Karen, Mona Lena Krook, and Petra Meier. “The rise of gender quota laws: Expanding the spectrum of determinants for electoral reform.” West European Politics 34, no. 3 (2011): 514-530.

Celis, Karen, Silvia Erzeel, Liza Mügge, and Alyt Damstra. “Quotas and intersectionality: Ethnicity and gender in candidate selection.” International Political Science Review 35, no. 1 (2014): 41-54.

Chiru, Mihail, and Marina Popescu. “The Value of Legislative Versus Electoral Experience and Gender in Explaining Candidate List Placement in Closed-List PR.” Problems of Post-Communism 64, no. 2 (2017): 65-78.

Constantinescu, Sorana. “Gender quotas in Romania-A critical overview of the debate.” Europolis, Journal Of Political Science And Theory 10, no. 10 (2) (2016): 169-185.

Dahlerup, Drude, and Milica Antic Gaber. “The legitimacy and effectiveness of gender quotas in politics in CE Europe.” Teorija in Praksa 54, no. 2 (2017): 307.

Dahlerup, Drude, ed. Women, Quotas and Politics. Routledge, 2013.

Dahlerup, Drude, and Lenita Freidenvall. Electoral gender quota systems and their implementation in Europe. European Parliament, 2011.

Dahlerup, Drude, and Lenita Freidenvall. “Judging gender quotas: predictions and results.” Policy & Politics 38, no. 3 (2010): 407-425.

Dahlerup, Drude. “Electoral gender quotas: Between equality of opportunity and equality of result.” Representation 43, no. 2 (2007): 73-92.

Dean, Laura A., and Pedro AG Dos Santos. “The Implications of Gender Quotas In Ukraine: A Case Study of Legislated Candidate Quotas in Eastern Europe’s Most Precarious Democracy.” Teorija in Praksa 54, no. 2 (2017): 355.

Dubrow, Joshua Kjerulf. “Dynamics of political inequality of voice: Romanian and Polish women’s parliamentary representation since 1945.” Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai-Sociologia 57, no. 1 (2012): 3-25.

Dubrow, Joshua Kjerulf. “The importance of party ideology: Explaining parliamentarian support for political party gender quotas in Eastern Europe.” Party Politics 17, no. 5 (2011): 561-579.

Dubrow, Joshua Kjerulf, and Dorota Woroniecka. “Polish Parliamentarian Attitudes toward Gender Equality and Gender Quotas: National and European Influences.” National and European (2010): 125-148.

Franceschet, Susan , Mona Lena Krook, and Jennifer M. Piscopo. The Impact of Gender Quotas. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Fuszara, Małgorzata. “Poland – A Success Story? Political History of Introducing Gender Quota in Post-Communist Poland.” Teorija in Praksa 54, no. 2 (2017): 317.

Galligan, Yvonne, and Sara Clavero. “Prospects for women’s legislative representation in postsocialist Europe: The views of female politicians.” Gender & Society 22, no. 2 (2008): 149-171.

Gendźwiłł, Adam, and Tomasz Żółtak. “Do Parties and Voters Counteract Quota Regulations? The Impact of Legislative Gender Quotas on Ballot Ranking and Preference Voting in Poland.” Politics & Gender (2019): 1-31.

Górecki, Maciej A., and Paula Kukołowicz. “Gender quotas, candidate background and the election of women: A paradox of gender quotas in open-list proportional representation systems.” Electoral Studies 36 (2014): 65-80.

Gwiazda, Anna. “Women in parliament: assessing the effectiveness of gender quotas in Poland.” The Journal of Legislative Studies 23, no. 3 (2017): 326-347.

Gwiazda, Anna. “Women’s representation and gender quotas: the case of the Polish parliament.” Democratization 22, no. 4 (2015): 679-697.

Hughes, Melanie M. “Intersectionality, quotas, and minority women’s political representation worldwide.” American Political Science Review 105, no. 3 (2011): 604-620.

Hughes, Melanie M., Mona Lena Krook, and Pamela Paxton. “Transnational women’s activism and the global diffusion of gender quotas.” International Studies Quarterly 59, no. 2 (2015): 357-372.

Hughes, Melanie M., Pamela Paxton, Amanda B. Clayton, and Pär Zetterberg. “Global gender quota adoption, implementation, and reform.” Comparative Politics 51, no. 2 (2019): 219-238.

Hughes, Melanie M., Pamela Paxton, Amanda Clayton, and Pär Zetterberg. 2017. Quota Adoption and Reform Over Time (QAROT), 1947-2015. [Computer file]. Ann Arbor, MI: Inter-university Consortium for Political and Social Research [distributor],

Hughes, Melanie M., Pamela Paxton, and Mona Lena Krook. “Gender quotas for legislatures and corporate boards.” Annual Review of Sociology 43 (2017): 331-352.

Jankowski, Michael, and Kamil Marcinkiewicz. “Ineffective and Counterproductive? The Impact of Gender Quotas in Open-List Proportional Representation Systems.” Politics & Gender (2017): 1-33.

Króliczek, Karolina. “The Feminist Way Forward: Gender Quota Policy in Poland.” PhD diss., PhD thesis, Department of Politics, University of York, 2012.

Krook, Mona Lena, and Pär Zetterberg, eds. Gender Quotas and Women’s Representation: New Directions in Research. Routledge, 2017.

Krook, Mona Lena. “Contesting gender quotas: dynamics of resistance.” Politics, Groups, and Identities 4, no. 2 (2016): 268-283.

Krook, Mona Lena. “Electoral gender quotas: A conceptual analysis.” Comparative Political Studies 47, no. 9 (2014): 1268-1293.

Krook, Mona Lena, and Pär Zetterberg. “Electoral quotas and political representation: Comparative perspectives.” International Political Science Review 35, no. 1 (2014): 3-11.

Krook, Mona Lena, and Diana Z. O’Brien. “The politics of group representation: Quotas for women and minorities worldwide.” Comparative Politics 42, no. 3 (2010): 253-272.

Krook, Mona Lena. Quotas for women in politics: Gender and candidate selection reform worldwide. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Krook, Mona Lena, Joni Lovenduski, and Judith Squires. “Gender quotas and models of political citizenship.” British Journal of Political Science 39, no. 4 (2009): 781-803.

Krook, Mona Lena. “Candidate gender quotas: A framework for analysis.” European Journal of Political Research 46, no. 3 (2007): 367-394.

Krook, Mona Lena. “Reforming representation: The diffusion of candidate gender quotas worldwide.” Politics & Gender 2, no. 3 (2006): 303-327.

Kukołowicz, Paula. “Do voters read gender? Stereotypes as voting cues in electoral settings.” Polish Sociological Review 182, no. 2 (2013): 223-238.

Lépinard, Éléonore, and Ruth Rubio-Marín. Transforming Gender Citizenship. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Lépinard, Éléonore. “From breaking the rule to making the rules: the adoption, entrenchment, and diffusion of gender quotas in France.” Politics, Groups, and Identities 4, no. 2 (2016): 231-245.

Matland, Richard E. Women’s access to political power in post-communist Europe. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Meier, Petra, and Emanuela Lombardo. “Gender quotas, gender mainstreaming and gender relations in politics.” Political Science 65, no. 1 (2013): 46-62.

Meier, Petra. “Quotas, quotas everywhere: From party regulations to gender quotas for corporate management boards. Another case of contagion.” Representation 49, no. 4 (2013): 453-466.

Millard, Frances. “Not much happened: The impact of gender quotas in Poland.” Communist and Post-Communist Studies 47, no. 1 (2014): 1-11.

Murray, Rainbow, Mona Lena Krook, and Katherine AR Opello. “Why are gender quotas adopted? Party pragmatism and parity in France.” Political Research Quarterly 65, no. 3 (2012): 529-543.

Murray, Rainbow. Parties, Gender Quotas and Candidate Selection in France. Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

Nugent, Mary K., and Mona Lena Krook. “All-women shortlists: myths and realities.” Parliamentary Affairs 69, no. 1 (2015): 115-135.

O’Brien, Diana Z., and Johanna Rickne. “Gender quotas and women’s political leadership.” American Political Science Review 110, no. 1 (2016): 112-126.

Paxton, Pamela, and Melanie M. Hughes. “The increasing effectiveness of national gender quotas, 1990–2010.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 40, no. 3 (2015): 331-362.

Rashkova, Ekaterina R., and Emilia Zankina. “Ministerial Politics in Southeastern Europe: Appointment and Portfolio Allocation to Female Ministers.” Politics & Gender (2019): 1-29.

Rashkova, Ekaterina R., and Emilia Zankina. “Women in Politics in Eastern Europe: A Changing Outlook.” Women, Policy and Political Leadership (2015): 87.

Rashkova, Ekaterina R., and Emilia Zankina. “Women’s Representation in Politics in South Eastern Europe: Quotas and the Importance of Party Differences.” Teorija in Praksa 54, no. 2 (2017): 376-393.

Rosen, Jennifer. “Gender quotas for women in national politics: A comparative analysis across development thresholds.” Social science research 66 (2017): 82-101.

Schwindt‐Bayer, Leslie A. “Making quotas work: The effect of gender quota laws on the election of women.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 34, no. 1 (2009): 5-28.

Śledzińska-Simon, Anna, and Adam Bodnar. “Gender equality from beneath: electoral gender quotas in Poland.” Canadian Journal of Law & Society/La Revue Canadienne Droit et Société 28, no. 2 (2013): 151-168.

Tremblay, Manon, ed. Women and Legislative Representation: Electoral Systems, Political Parties, and Sex Quotas. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Tripp, Aili Mari, and Alice Kang. “The global impact of quotas: On the fast track to increased female legislative representation.” Comparative Political Studies 41, no. 3 (2008): 338-361.

Verge, Tània, and Ana Espírito-Santo. “Interactions between party and legislative quotas: candidate selection and quota compliance in Portugal and Spain.” Government and Opposition 51, no. 3 (2016): 416-439.

Verge, Tània, and María De la Fuente. “Playing with different cards: Party politics, gender quotas and women’s empowerment.” International Political Science Review 35, no. 1 (2014): 67-79.

Verloo, Mieke, ed. Varieties of opposition to gender equality in Europe. Routledge, 2018.

Xydias, Christina V. “Inviting more women to the party: gender quotas and women’s substantive representation in Germany.” International Journal of Sociology 37, no. 4 (2007): 52-66.

Xydias, Christina. “Women’s rights in Germany: generations and gender quotas.” Politics & Gender 10, no. 1 (2014): 4-32.

Further Reading: Major Books and Reports

Ballington, Julie, and Francesca Binda, eds. “The implementation of quotas: European experiences.” International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, IDEA, in collaboration with European Forum for Democracy and Solidarity, 2006.

Dahlerup, Drude, ed. Women, Quotas and Politics. Routledge, 2006.

Dahlerup, Drude, and Milica Antic Gaber. Gender Quotas in Politics in Central East Europe. University of Ljubljana, 2017.

Dahlerup, Drude, and Lenita Freidenvall. Electoral gender quota systems and their implementation in Europe. European Parliament, 2011.

Franceschet, Susan, Mona Lena Krook, and Jennifer M. Piscopo. The Impact of Gender Quotas. Oxford University Press, 2012.

Krook, Mona Lena, and Pär Zetterberg, eds. Gender Quotas and Women’s Representation: New Directions in Research. Routledge, 2017.

Krook, Mona Lena. Quotas for Women in Politics: Gender and Candidate Selection Reform Worldwide. Oxford University Press, 2010.

Lépinard, Éléonore, and Ruth Rubio-Marín, eds. Transforming Gender Citizenship. Cambridge University Press, 2018.

Matland, Richard, and Kathleen Montgomery, eds. Women’s Access to Political Power in Post-Communist Europe. Oxford University Press, 2003.

Murray, Rainbow. Parties, Gender Quotas and Candidate Selection in France. Palgrave MacMillan, 2010.

Tremblay, Manon, ed. Women and Legislative Representation: Electoral Systems, Political Parties, and Sex Quotas. Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Verloo, Mieke, ed. Varieties of Opposition to Gender Equality in Europe. Routledge, 2018.

Political Voice and Economic Inequality: Institutional Factors

We at the POLINQ project examined 18 quantitative cross-national articles by major scholars in the leading journals to develop a typology of institutional factors that influence the relationship between political voice and economic inequality. We comment on how scholars have measured these factors, or “concepts.”

At a glance

  1. Institutional Factors that Link Voice to Inequality
    1. Economic
    2. Education
    3. Elections
    4. Democracy
    5. Government Forms
    6. Governance
    7. Political Parties
    8. Social and Ecological Conditions
    9. Values
  2. List of the 18 Articles on Political Voice and Economic Inequality


Economic Development: What Dalton and van Sickle (2005) called a “resource environment,” researchers typically argue that higher levels of economic resources increase probability of political behavior. Some form of this argument is used in at least 14 of the 18 papers. It is usually measured with GDP per capita and various iterations (tied to 2000 USD, adjusted for differences in purchasing power, and so on). Scruggs and Stockemer (2009) referred to it as “national wealth” and Teorell et al (2007) referred to it as “level of economic modernization.”

Economic Growth: Greater growth means greater resources which should, in turn, boost political participation. It is measured with change in GDP. Dalton and van Sickle (2005) examined this and found it was not significantly associated with political behavior.

Economic Globalization: Crenshaw et al (2017) write: “The integration of countries into the world economy creates greater global notice of contention, more salient targets, and more access to potential third party allies, resources, and witnesses who might respond to contenders.” Various measures are used.

Economic Inequality: Various theories posit the link between voice and inequality. Economic inequality is also referred to as income inequality. Usually measured with gini and usually with Solt’s SWIID, and other times with World Bank or CIA Fact Book. Karakoc (2013) squared Gini to account for change in Gini and found that it can boost participation.

Social Expenditure: This Welfare state argument is put forward by Lancee and Van de Werfhorst (2012) who argued that increased social expenditure (the funding of the welfare state) should boost participation. In interaction with income, social expenditure reduces the impact of income and economic inequality on civic and social participation. We explored this in the POLINQ project.


Education: Coffe and Bolzendahl (2011) examined the effect of an education index (literacy rates and enrollment in schools) in analyzing the gender gap in political participation: “higher levels of education are positively related to women’s voter registration, and are marginally related to political contact.” Fornos et al (2004) used literacy and found it was not related to turnout in Latin America.

Educational Inequality: Found in Persson (2010): the effect of inequality varies by educational groups. There is a cross-national measure of educational inequality “Measuring Education Inequality: Gini Coefficients of Education for 140 countries, 1960-2000.”


Compulsory Voting: When people have to vote under penalty of law, turnout will be higher. Usually measured as a dummy (1 = compulsory, 0 = not).

Election Environment, e.,g. Election Year: Other forms of political participation are influenced by whether it is an election year. Solt (2015) found that signing petitions is lower in election years. See also Concurrent Elections: Turnout is higher when the presidential and the legislative elections are close in time (Fornos et al (2004)). See also Turnout: Greater turnout can influence other forms of turnout, but the direction is not clear. It can boost it in a “participative environment” or it can decrease it because voting is seen as primary form of behavior, the “only one you need,” and thus competes with other political behaviors. Stockemer (2014) did not find a significant effect. See also Founding Elections: The first election that is a break from authoritarian past should boost turnout. This is a significant factor.

Electoral Competition: Fornos et al (2004) argued that higher levels of competition means that people are intensely interested in voting and thus should turnout in higher numbers – this is not the case for Latin America. See also electoral disproportionality – when two parties have widely divergent seat shares, this depresses turnout. Scruggs and Stockmeyer (2009) also did not find a significant impact of competitiveness. They did find a significant effect on voting for the “decisiveness” of the election – when many seats are in play that could tilt the ideological balance of the legislature or government.

Electoral System: Scruggs and Stockemer (2009) argue that proportional representation systems encourage turnout because voter’s votes are more likely to produce an effect on party representation, and parties are more incentivized to encourage turnout. Majoritarian systems should have the opposite effect. They found that the effects are not significant. But, Solt (2015) found a negative effect of proportional representation systems on non-institutionalized forms of participation – when people see that proportional representation produces “more representative, consensual, and effective” governments, they tend to vote and not feel it necessary to engage in other forms. This seems similar to a “trust in institutions” argument.


Level of Democracy: The general idea is that democracies allow for a greater range of political expression of the kind asked about in surveys; the higher the level of democracy, the greater the level of political participation. This is usually measured with Freedom House, Polity, etc. The results are mixed. See also Rule of Law, measured with good governance indicators. The greater the rule of law, the greater the openness of the political opportunity structure. Generally, Rule of Law has a positive association with political participation.

Years of Democracy: The older the democracy, the more comfortable citizens feel to engage in lawful forms of participation. This is measured with old/new, in Europe it is post-communism/not post-communism (or, “experience with socialism”), or with number of years since the democratic transition. Some show no effect, some show that post-communism matters.

Government Forms

Unicameralism: Fornos et al (2004) argues that in unicameral legislatures, voters have a greater say in the ideological direction of the government with a single election and can easily see the ideological direction. Bicameral structures can obstruct legislation and make a less clear ideological governance situation. They find that it increases turnout in Latin America.

Bicameralism: Two-tiered legislatures produce more “access points” to the legislative arena and should boost participation. Solt (2015) found this for demonstrating, but not other forms. Persson (2010) found evidence for this for voting.

Federalism: Federalism decentralizes power and produces more “access points.” Some find that it boosts participation of various kinds, others find no effect. See also Horizontal Decentralization in which decentralized governments opens up the political opportunity structure. Vrablikova (2014) found that it increases non-electoral political behavior. See also Vrablikova (2014) Territorial Decentralization which opens multiple access points to influence – this has a positive impact on participation.

Presidentialism: Another “access point” theory, in which power is separated into government branches, and the president’s executive branch is separate from the parliament’s legislative branch. Solt (2008) found that it impacts participation, but Solt (2015) found that it did not in Europe. See also Parliamentarism that, for the same reason, boosts participation.


Good and Effective Governance: Perceptions of the quality of governance should boost participation. Coffe and Bolzendahl (2011) use Worldwide Governance Indicators WGI and do not find this to be the case. Welzel and Deutsch (2012) measure it with World Bank Voice and Accountability index and find a positive association.

Corruption: Some find that corruption (also, Clientelism) reduces turnout. Others find that low corruption reduces the gap between men and women in participation, but does not have a strong effect on participation in general.

Political Parties

Party Pluralism: The more parties, the more chances for mobilization for voting. Or, the more parties, the greater the difficulties in creating governing coalitions and thus the people turn to other forms of participation. See also Multipartyism. A usual measure is how many parties there are in the elections. Some find that it boosts some form of participation, others find that it has no effect. Some find that it has a negative impact on voting.

Party Polarization: With great polarization comes a lower ability to form governing coalitions which concentrates power in the hands of the wealthy. This should reduce turnout among the poor and middle class. Polarization is measured with party ideologies quantified and a distance measure between them. Jaime-Castillo (2009) found this to be the case. See also Extremism, measured with WVS left-right scale and aggregated to the country level – Dalton and Sickle (2005) found that extremism increases protest behavior.

Union Density: Like parties, unions seek to politically mobilize voters. Higher density leads to higher turnout, and attending a demonstration.

Social and Ecological Conditions

Ethnic Fractionalization: The greater the degree of ethnic heterogeneity, the greater the associational participation (Karakoc 2013).

Population: Some find that larger countries have greater turnout, some find no impact. Crenshaw et al (2017) argue that larger places have more resources, audience, and tensions that lead to contentious politics. They find that population is positively related to protest.

Urbanism: For the same reasons as population, urbanism should boost participation, but Fornos et al (2004) did not find this for Latin America.


Post-materialism and Emancipative Values: The greater the post-materialism, the greater the political participation. Some claim that this is the only variable that really matters.

List of the 18 Articles on Political Voice and Economic Inequality

Cicatiello, Lorenzo, Salvatore Ercolano, and Giuseppe Lucio Gaeta. 2015. “Income Distribution and Political Participation: A Multilevel Analysis.” Empirica 42: 447–479.

Coffe, Hilde, and Catherine Bolzendahl. 2011. “Gender Gaps in Political Participation Across Sub-Saharan African Nations.” Social Indicators Research 102: 245–264.

Crenshaw, Edward M., Kristopher K. Robison, and J. Craig Jenkins. 2017. “The Globalization of Political Contention:  The Effects of International Mass Media and Economic Globalization on Protest, Terrorism, and Warfare, 1976-2006.”

Dalton, Russell J., and Alix van Sickle. 2005. “The Resource, Structural, and Cultural Bases of Protest.” Center for the Study of Democracy UC Irvine.

Dalton, Russell, Alix van Sickle, and Steven Weldon. 2010. “The Individual–Institutional Nexus of Protest Behaviour.” British Journal of Political Science 40(1): 51–73.

Dubrow, Joshua Kjerulf, Kazimierz M. Slomczynski, and Irina Tomescu-Dubrow. 2008. “Effects of Democracy and Inequality on Soft Political Protest in Europe. Exploring the European Social Survey Data.” International Journal of Sociology 38(3): 36–51.

Fornos, Carolina A., Timothy J. Power, and James C. Garand. 2004. “Explaining Voter Turnout in Latin America, 1980 to 2000.Comparative Political Studies 37(8): 909–940.

Jaime-Castillo, Antonio M. 2009. “Economic Inequality and Electoral Participation. A Cross-Country Evaluation.” Comparative Study of the Electoral Systems (CSES) Conference.

Karakoc, Ekrem. 2013. “Economic Inequality and Its Asymmetric Effect on Civic Engagement: Evidence from Post-Communist Countries.European Political Science Review 5(2): 197–223.

Lancee, Bram, and Herman G. Van de Werfhorst. 2012. “Income Inequality and Participation: A Comparison of 24 European Countries.” Social Science Research 41: 1166–1178.

Marien, Sofie, Marc Hooghe, and Ellen Quintelier. 2010. “Inequalities in Non-Institutionalised Forms of Political Participation: A Multi-Level Analysis of 25 Countries.” Political Studies 58: 187–213.

Persson, Mikael. 2010. “The Effects of Economic and Educational Inequality on Political Participation.” ECPR.

Scruggs, Lyle, and Daniel Stockemer. 2009. “The Impact of Inequality on Turnout – New Evidence on a Burgeoning Debate.” Midwest Political Science Association.

Solt, Frederick. 2008. “Economic Inequality and Democratic Political Engagement.” American Journal of Political Science, 52(1): 48–60.

Solt, Frederick. 2015. “Economic Inequality and Nonviolent Protest.” Social Science Quarterly 96(5): 1314–1327.

Stockemer, Daniel. 2014. “What Drives Unconventional Political participation? A Two Level Study.” The Social Science Journal 51: 201–211.

Teorell, Jan, Mariano Torcal, and José Ramón Montero. 2007. “Political Participation: Mapping the Terrain.” Pp. 334–357 in Citizenship and Involvement in European Democracies: A Comparative Analysis, edited by van W. van Deth, José Ramón Montero, and Anders Westholm, Routledge.

Vráblíková, Katerina. 2014. “How Context Matters? Mobilization, Political Opportunity Structures, and Nonelectoral Political Participation in Old and New Democracies.Comparative Political Studies 47(2): 203–229.

Welzel, Christian, and Franziska Deutsch. 2012. “Emancipative Values and Non-Violent Protest: The Importance of “Ecological” Effects.” British Journal of Political Science 42(2): 465–479.

This was created with the help of Dr. Olga Zelinska for the POLINQ project funded by the National Science Centre, Poland.

Copyright Joshua Dubrow 2022

Interview with Piotr Zagorski on Education and Support for Right-wing Populist Parties in Central and Eastern Europe

Piotr Zagorski and Andrés Santana, of Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Spain, recently presented their paper, “Voice or Exit: Education, Support for Right-wing Populist Parties, and Abstention in Central and Eastern Europe,” at the Politics and Inequality conference held December 2018 in Warsaw, Poland.

Piotr Zagórski is a Ph.D. candidate in Political Science at Faculty of Law, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He holds an MA in Sociology from Universidad de Granada. His research interests include electoral behavior with a special focus on turnout and comparative politics with an emphasis on European populist parties. Zagorski’s co author, Andrés Santana, is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Pompeu Fabra University, an MA in Sociology from the Juan March Institute, and a Graduate Degree in Data Analysis from the University of Essex. Dr. Santana has published in the European Sociological Review and Politics & Gender, among others, as well as several book chapters and books. His fields of interest are electoral behavior, populist parties, political elites, women’s representation, research methodology, and quantitative research techniques.

We asked Piotr Zagorski for an extended abstract of their Politics and Inequality conference paper and, via email, some questions about their research.

Extended Abstract of Zagorski and Santana

The growth in the success of populist parties in many developed democracies has prompted a parallel increase in the studies on the electoral sociology of right-wing populist parties (RPP) in Western Europe and, to a lesser extent, in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). However, the relationship between populism and turnout has been understudied in the literature. Existing scholarship fails to clarify whether voting for RPP and abstention are two largely interchangeable outcomes provoked by a common set of factors or two alternative courses of action undertaken by different types of individuals. If the former were true, RPP might be a corrective for democracy in terms of closing the representational gap for citizens whose preferences are unmet by the political supply of other parties. Thus, RPP might manage to reduce the existent political inequalities in political participation. This paper aims at examining the sociodemographic characteristics of those who vote for RPP and those who abstain, in comparison to those who cast their ballots for other parties. As education reduces the propensity of both voting for RPP and of abstention, we focus on explaining when low levels of education lead to voice (voting for RPP) and when do they increase the chances of exit (abstention). We estimate multinomial logistic regression models using cross-sectional data of the 2014 European Elections Study for 9 CEE countries. This approach enables us to show that education affects RPP voting and abstention differently. We find that, after taking into account anti-immigration attitudes and Euroscepticism, education has no independent effect on RPP support. Moreover, anti-immigrant and anti-EU attitudes do not mobilize highly educated citizens to cast a ballot for RPP. We also show that, although RPP are successful in drawing the low educated and anti-immigrant or Eurosceptic citizens to the polls, many of them choose to stay home on the election day.

Interview with Piotr Zagorski

The research co-authored with Andrés Santana that you presented at the Politics and Inequality conference was on voting for right wing populist parties in Central and Eastern Europe. How did you get interested in this topic? And how is this topic connected to other research that you are doing?

Nowadays it is quite hard to avoid to study populism in Political Science. Due to a remarkable number of papers presented on this topic during the last ECPR (European Consortium for Political Research) General Conference in Hamburg, the joke was that it should be renamed as “European Consortium for Populism Research”. Given the recent surge of populist parties and candidates around the world, it does not come as a surprise that political scientists try to understand and explain this phenomenon. From my own perspective, as I come from Poland, my interest in right-wing populist parties (RPP) in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) is obviously related to the success of Law and Justice and its consequences for democracy in my homeland.

As we point out in the paper, research linking RPP voting with electoral turnout is scarce, especially for CEE. Both Andrés and I are passionate about studying electoral turnout. Andrés wrote his dissertation on the rational calculus of voting, and he is also one of the supervisors of my dissertation on electoral turnout in CEE. In this paper, we wanted to assess the connections between turnout and voting for populist parties. The rationale behind it was to see whether RPP can have a corrective effect on democracy, by reducing some of the political inequalities produced by the distinct levels of electoral participation among citizens with different social profiles. To put it differently: can voting for RPP and abstention be considered as two alternative courses of action (voice or exit, respectively) for citizens who do not find non-populist parties as attractive options?

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