Female candidacies and success levels in 2009’s local electoral contests

Adrian Kavanagh, 2nd February 2012

Given the day that’s in it, many will be considering the effect of gender quotas and whether increased levels of female candidates will necessarily translate into a higher level of female representatives. I would argue that the relative success of gender quotas is likely to be predicated, and potentially limited, by constituency size considerations with female candidates less likely to make a breakthrough in smaller sized (e.g. three seat) constituencies based on previous research noted on this site by Claire McGing and yours truly. It is of course not good to generalise on the basis of small numbers (and in looking at general election constituencies one is effectively looking at a relatively small (forty or so) number of cases, or constituencies – it is also worth stressing that the range of constituency size options for general elections is rather weak. In order to increase the number of cases being looked at and also the range of constituency sizes being considered, in this post I will look at the link between constituency size and female candidacy/success levels in the most recent set of County/City Council and Town Council elections, held in June 2009. It is of course fair to say that local electoral contests are somewhat different to general elections in terms of the issues and concerns being raised, as well as the geographical extent of the constituency units, but not dissimilar enough to mean that findings based on analysis of these are necessarily invalid in relation to consequences for general election constituencies.

In the County/City Council elections in 2009, 312 females (out of a total number of 1,824 candidates – 17.1%) contested the election, with 85 female Fine Gael candidates (18.1%), 80 female Fianna Fail candidates (16.9%), 48 female Labour Party candidates (23.1%), 34 female Sinn Fein candidates (22.8%) and 17 female Green Party candidates (22.1%), with 48 females amongst the non-party candidates and other smaller parties grouping (10.8%). Female candidates won 320,251 votes (17.0%) in these electoral contests and female candidates won an average of 1,026 votes against an average of 1,032 for male candidates (just 0.54% higher than the average for female candidates). 146 female candidates (16.5% of the total number of candidates) won seats in these elections. 59 female Fine Gael candidates (17.4% of the total number of successful Fine Gael candidates) won seats, as did 31 female Fianna Fail candidates (14.2%), 29 female Labour Party candidates (22.0%), 11 female Sinn Fein candidates (20.4%) and 0 female Green Party candidates (0.0%), with 16 non-party/other smaller parties females (11.8%) being elected also.

Females candidacies by party in City/County Council elections, 1999-2009

In the Town Council elections in 2009, 278 females (out of a total number of 1,244 candidates – 22.3%) contested the election, with 89 female Fine Gael candidates (29.9%), 74 female Fianna Fail candidates (22.7%), 30 female Labour Party candidates (19.4%), 27 female Sinn Fein candidates (24.5%) and 15 female Green Party candidates (31.9%), with 43 females amongst the non-party candidates and other smaller parties grouping (14.0%). Female candidates won 60,179 votes (19.4%) in these electoral contests and female candidates won an average of 216 votes against an average of 259 for male candidates (19.52% higher than the average for female candidates). 146 female candidates (16.5% of the total number of candidates) won seats in these elections. 66 female Fine Gael candidates (30.6% of the total number of successful Fine Gael candidates) won seats, as did 35 female Fianna Fail candidates (19.3%), 17 female Labour Party candidates (17.0%), 10 female Sinn Fein candidates (13.9%) and 6 female Green Party candidates (40.0%), with 22 non-party/other smaller parties females (14.6%) being elected also.

If we combine the vote and candidate statistics across both the range of City/County Council and Town Council election types, we can see the impact of constituency size on female candidatures, vote levels and success rates. The general trend suggested by Table 1 is that females were most likely to be selected to run in larger constituencies and female candidates were most likely to do better (in terms of seat numbers and vote share) in larger constituencies, with the notable exception of the relatively small number of cases (3) of three-seat constituencies.

Size

Cases

Female candidates

Female seats

Female votes

3-seat

3

5 (21.7%)

1 (11.1%)

25.8%

4-seat

66

96 (16.7%)

39 (14.8%)

16.1%

5-seat

49

89 (17.3%)

38 (15.5%)

16.8%

6-seat

35

74 (17.5%)

34 (16.2%)

18.1%

7-seat

29

67 (17.1%)

41 (20.2%)

16.4%

9-seat

61

242 (22.8%)

136 (21.3%)

20.2%

12-seat

4

17 (20.7%)

13 (27.1%)

21.9%

3/4-seat

69

101 (16.9%)

40 (14.7%)

16.7%

9/12-seat

65

259 (22.7%)

149 (21.7%)

20.4%

Total

247

590 (19.2%)

302 (18.7%)

17.4%

Table 1: Female candidacies, seat numbers and vote levels in the 2009 local electoral contests (City/County and Town Council elections combined) by constituency size. 

The trend is perhaps most obvious when one looks at seat numbers, with the table above showing that female candidates’ chances of winning representation increased in line with increased numbers of seats in constituencies consistently being associated with a higher level of female representation. Constituency size especially was significant in terms of the success levels of Fine Gael and Fianna Fail female candidates. In three or four seat constituencies, just 9.1% of Fianna Fail seats were won by females and 13.2% of Fine Gael seats, while in nine or twelve seat constituencies 19.7% of Fianna Fail seats were won by females and 31.9% of Fine Gael seats were won by females.

What is also interesting is the fact that constituency size seems to have impacted more on the prospects of new/non incumbent female candidates than those of sitting/incumbent female candidates. In the case of incumbent females, these accounted for 182 of all the seats won in the 2009 local electoral contests (11.2% of total seats won) and 79.8% of female incumbents who contested these elections successfully defended their seat, a higher level than that for male incumbent candidates (77.6%). Non-incumbent female candidates accounted for 7.3% of the total number of seats won. Incumbent females were significantly more successful than non-incumbent females in the smaller constituencies with 10.0% of seats won in 3, 4 and 5 seat constituencies being accounted for by female incumbent candidates as against just 5.0% for non-female incumbents. The prospects of non-incumbent females however increased notably for the largest constituencies, with the level of seats won by female non-incumbents in 9 and 12 seat constituencies increasing significantly to 9.5% with just a marginal increase in the level (11.9%) of successful incumbent female incumbent candidates. There is no doubt that larger constituencies create “opportunity spaces” for new female candidates, offering them a better prospect of becoming established, and winning a seat, in a constituency than would be the case for smaller sized constituency units.

So what does this mean in relation to gender quotas? If we want the higher level of female candidatures associated with quotas to translate into higher levels of female respresentation (and yes more female candidates will undoubtedly result in a higher proportion of female representation, but the percentage increase in candidacies need not necessarily translate into a similar increase in representation levels) then the best of way of ensuring this is through larger constituency units. For the new legislation to be ultimately successful, I would argue that there also needs to be a change made to the Electoral Act to allow for larger constituency units at general elections over and above the current range of 3, 4, and 5-seat constituency options.

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About Adrian Kavanagh

Lecturer in Maynooth University Department of Geography.
This entry was posted in Candidates, Election data, Gender, local elections and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Female candidacies and success levels in 2009’s local electoral contests

  1. Pingback: Blood in the Water?: How patterns of local representation match up with new local election boundaries – an overview | Irish Elections: Geography, Facts and Analyses

  2. Pingback: Whither Gerrymandering? | Irish Elections: Geography, Facts and Analyses

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