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Surge in female political candidates in May UK elections

Caroline Pidgeon_489p

New research from the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) shows a rise of more than 10 percentage points in the proportion of female candidates for some of May’s elections, but gains in elected representatives are likely to be more modest.

The UK elections on 5 May 2016 will see a significant jump in the proportion of female candidates, with the largest increases coming in the Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly elections.

Researchers from the Democratic Dashboard team at LSE analysed data on the gender balance of candidates standing in elections for the London Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly. They found that the proportion of female candidates is higher in each compared with the most recent set of elections.

In Northern Ireland, over 27% of candidates are female, up from 17% in the 2011 election, and a significant jump above the historical rate of female candidates. In Scotland there is a similar rise of 10 percentage points, with 39% of candidates being female. At 40%, London has the highest proportion of female candidates, a rise of 6 percentage points from 34% in 2012. Wales has seen an increase of 4 percentage points, with 34% of candidates being female. However, in Scotland, London and Wales, these increases are largely compensating for significant drops in 2011.

The research also revealed significant variations between political parties. Much of the increase is being driven by traditionally smaller parties, in particular the Green Party, and the recently-formed Women’s Equality Party. However, in Scotland, the gender gap among SNP candidates has gone from around 50% to under 15%. The Labour Party also sees more women than men running for Holyrood for the first time.

However, while difficult to predict, the rise in the gender balance of the elected Parliament and Assemblies is likely to be more modest than the increase in female candidates.

Manager of the Democratic Dashboard, Mr Carl Cullinane, said:

“The demographics of election candidates is changing, and we have seen a substantial jump in the proportion of female candidates this time around. In Scotland and Northern Ireland in particular, there has been a significant shift. This is driven both by greater gender balance of candidates within particular parties, and in Northern Ireland, by a rise in the number of female independent candidates.”

“However, this is likely to translate into more modest increases in the proportion of women elected in May, due to how parties approach the different electoral systems and greater gender balance among parties unlikely to win seats. The rise in Northern Ireland is likely to be significant and long awaited, however we are unlikely to see large shifts in the gender balance of the other elected bodies.”

Commenting on these figures, Jemima Olchawski, Head of Policy and Insight at The Fawcett Society, said:

"Women are still under-represented at every level of our politics and right across the UK. Selecting more women to stand is the first step to achieving equal representation, but we know the real change comes when political parties actually put women in winnable seats. The larger parties have very mixed records, with some still giving the vast majority of their target seats to male candidates. It's nearly 100 years since women gained the right to vote - it's time to make sure our politics really gives them a voice."


Notes for editors:

The Democratic Dashboard is a project at the LSE which provides easy-to-understand information to voters and in-depth analysis with robust data about the UK elections in May 2016. The Democratic Dashboard is available at http://democraticdashboard.com/

The Dashboard brings together a wide variety of databases to provide definitive information for voters in the UK elections in May 2016. These elections are:

  • Parliamentary and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and London.
  • Mayoral elections in Bristol, Liverpool, London and Salford.
  • 40 Police and Crime Commissioner elections in England.
  • 124 local council elections in England.
  • 2 Parliamentary by-elections in England

In addition to what is available on the site, further data and analysis is available to journalists. The Democratic Dashboard team at LSE would be happy to discuss providing data to support your coverage of the May elections. Please contact us using the details below.

This is also available as a widget which you could embed in your news site. Some standard code is available here, or please get in touch if we can provide something more bespoke.

The Dashboard was established in 2015 and is a project of the Democratic Audit. Democratic Audit is an independent research organisation, established as a not-for-profit company, and based at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). Its core objective is to advance education, and to undertake and promote research into, the quality and effectiveness of UK democracy. 

For further information, contact:

Nick Bason: N.Bason@lse.ac.uk / 020 7852 3741 or Carl Cullinane: C.M.Cullinane@lse.ac.uk / 020 7852 3762.

26 April 2016