From Suffrage To Representation: Women, Suffragists and Politicians upon Enfranchisement in the U.S., U.K, Norway and Chile

Lead Research Organisation: Durham University
Department Name: Government and International Affairs


How do women achieve representation of shared interests? Scholars often emphasize the importance of voting rights for representation, while practitioners call for the removal of voting barriers as a means to group empowerment. Yet politicians often fail to represent women's interests despite women's equal access to the polls. This project will challenge conventional narratives, shared by scholars and practitioners alike, wherein the acquisition of voting rights 'automatically' improves the representation of women's interests. While de jure electoral inclusion of women is clearly a necessary condition for de facto representation of women's interests, the gender deficit in most legislatures today demonstrates that it is hardly sufficient. Through an analysis of the electoral processes that materialised in the aftermath of women's suffrage in four distinct countries (U.K, U.S., Norway and Chile), this project will develop new understanding of how and when access to the polling booth improves the representation of women's interests.

Undertaking the study of historical suffrage reforms to understand the pathways towards representation has several advantages. It provides the best environment in which to uncover how women's interests came to be represented despite women's virtual absence in legislatures. This is especially relevant given that women remain underrepresented in most legislatures across the world. It also provides an environment in which to observe both the immediate and the long-term impact of women's entry to politics. This enhances the understanding of the extent to which women came to be represented, but also how such representation was sustained over time. Methodologically, it provides the best natural laboratory in which to derive robust answers relevant to academics and practitioners. This methodological advantage reflects the fact that the adoption of suffrage in a single year - as opposed to across different countries over time - was an exogenous shock to all politicians, whether they liked it or not.

Central to this project is an original proposition that politicians' responsiveness to women's interests is primarily determined by an electoral dynamic: vote-seeking politicians may not represent women's interests if women's reluctance to vote disincentivizes politicians to mobilise them, or if women forgo their gender identity and vote on other non-gendered identities. This project thus formulates and tests an original hypothesis: successful representation of women's interests stems from politicians' electoral need to engage women voters and the ability of women's organised groups to enhance women's capacity to demand better representation of women's interests. To this end, this project will create an original data set that tracks the behaviour of voters, organised women's groups and politicians. The micro-level character of this rich data supports the implementation of robust research designs and therefore enables the provision of rigorous answers that maximise the benefit to both academics and practitioners.

Beyond scholarly merits, understanding the origins of women's representation in legislatures is highly relevant for practitioners. Given that the representation of women's interests is not automatically secured even under universal suffrage - otherwise there would be no complaints from scholars and advocacy groups that women's interests are not sufficiently represented by politicians today - practitioners' efforts to remove voting barriers as a means to women's empowerment may improve electoral justice without challenging politicians' unwillingness to represent women's interests. This project thus seeks to map the electoral conditions under which the acquisition of the vote improves the representation of women's interests and therefore provide direct recommendations to practitioners who seek to address the gender deficit in legislatures.

Planned Impact

There are two key non-academic user communities who will benefit from this project: [1] practitioners specializing in women's political representation and democracy effectiveness and [2] the interested public.

[1] This project will be of particular interest to practitioners who seek to improve politicians' responsiveness to women, foster gender equality and the development of democratic effectiveness in general.

Specifically, (i) this project will be relevant to practitioners who seek to remove barriers to women's electoral participation (de jure empowerment) as a means to secure women's political representation (de facto empowerment) by providing an explanation for why the former is not sufficient to deliver the latter. Furthermore, (ii) this project will benefit practitioners by exploring to what extent and how advocacy groups induce politicians' responsiveness to women's interests, especially in settings where women politicians do not constitute a sizeable proportion of the legislature, and by exploring to what extent the success of practitioners rests on effective public engagement strategies.

This benefit to practitioners is secured through two main characteristics of the project: (i) through its focus on the role of institutions for democratic effectiveness, a careful study of historical pathways to women's representation will provide insights that are relevant to practitioners today. Notwithstanding the obvious differences in contexts, the incentives of politicians and organised interests to represent women's interests will arguably be influenced by similar factors, notably by institutions that shape these agents' strategic incentives. (ii) A careful study of historical pathways to women's representation also provides the best natural laboratory in which to uncover how women's interests came to be represented and maintained over time, thus enabling robust evidential support that maximises the return for practitioners.

The project will ensure that these benefits to practitioners are maximised with the following activities: (i) conducting consultations with practitioners from the start of the project to ensure that the interests of practitioners inform the development of this project; (ii) organising a practitioner-centred dissemination event to disseminate the key findings of this project; (iii) disseminating a briefing document that summarises the key findings to practitioners.

[2] This project will also benefit the interested public by enriching understanding of women's political representation and the role of women's organised interests in securing women's political emancipation in the aftermath of suffrage. This benefit is enhanced by the on-going centenaries of women's suffrage in several Western countries, which have witnessed a surge of public interest in women's political emancipation.

This project will engage the interested public via the following dissemination activities: (i) disseminating key findings to the interested public via the Monkey Cage blog at the Washington Post; (ii) disseminating key findings to the interested public via a public debate held at the Global Institute for Women's Leadership in London, whose practitioner-oriented agenda enhances the dissemination of findings. The debate will be filmed and made available via YouTube, SoundCloud, a project website and a project Twitter account, to maximise the events' reach to the interested public; and (iii) disseminating key findings via the project website, which will enable access to collected data for the interested public. The website will include information about the project and a blog, which will feature interesting events uncovered from news and other archival material, such as maps that visualise the strength and activities of local suffragists. All entries in the project's blog will be publicised via the project's Twitter account.


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Project Reference Relationship Related To Start End Award Value
ES/T01394X/1 31/08/2020 30/08/2021 £243,879
ES/T01394X/2 Transfer ES/T01394X/1 31/08/2021 30/08/2023 £171,114
Description LSE Blog Post 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A blog post titled `For American suffragists, winning the right to vote was just the start in securing greater representation for women' was published on March 8th, 2021 at the LSE US Centre blog. The blog targets international professional, academic and wider public audiences and is regarded to be highly influential in disseminating research findings to wider audiences. The blog has at least 2000 unique visitors daily.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Symposium 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Speaker at a `Since Suffrage' Symposium, organised by Auburn University, U.S. The Symposium brought together several scholars to disseminate to a wider public their research contributions on women's participation in politics since suffrage in the U.S. The symposium has been video streamed in real time via Facebook and YouTube and open to a wider public. A YouTube video recording of the contribution has been online since then, and viewed 40 times one month after the event. The contribution sparked interest among the public, as documented by several real time questions among virtual attendees.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2020