This article analyses the relationship between the representatives and the represented by comparing elite and mass attitudes to gender equality and women’s representation in Britain. In so doing, the authors take up arguments in the recent theoretical literature on representation that question the value of empirical research of Pitkin’s distinction between substantive and descriptive representation. They argue that if men and women have different attitudes at the mass level, which are reproduced amongst political elites, then the numerical under-representation of women may have negative implications for women’s substantive representation. The analysis is conducted on the British Election Study (BES) and the British Representation Study (BRS) series.
1 Phillips, Anne, The Politics of Presence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995); Mansbridge, Jane, ‘Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women: A Contingent “Yes” ’, Journal of Politics, 61 (1999), 628–657; Wängnerud, Lena, ‘Testing the Politics of Presence: Women’s Representation in the Swedish Riksdag’, Scandinavian Political Studies, 23 (2000), 67–91; Bratton, Kathleen and Leonard, Ray, ‘Descriptive Representation, Policy Outcomes and Municipal Day-Care Coverage in Norway’, American Journal of Political Science, 47 (2002), 428–437; Dovi, Suzanne, ‘Preferable Descriptive Representatives: Will Just Any Woman, Black or Latino Do?’ Journal of Theoretical Politics, 12 (2000), 113–124; Weldon, Laurel, ‘Beyond Bodies: Institutional Sources of Representation for Women in Democratic Policy Making’, Journal of Politics, 64 (2002), 1153–1174; Mansbridge, Jane, ‘Rethinking Representation’, American Political Science Review, 97 (2003), 515–528; Lovenduski, Joni, Feminizing Politics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2005); Schwindt-Bayer, Leslie and Mishler, William, ‘An Integrated Model of Women’s Representation’, Journal of Politics, 67 (2005), 407–428; Celis, Karen, Childs, Sarah, Kantola, Johanna and Krook, Mona Lena, ‘Rethinking Women’s Substantive Representation’, Representation, 44 (2008), 99–110; Dovi, Suzanne, ‘Theorizing Women’s Representation in the United States’, Politics and Gender, 3 (2007), 297–319.
2 See Carroll, Susan and Zerrilli, Linda, ‘Feminist Challenges to Political Science’, in Ada Finifter, ed., Political Science: The State of The Discipline (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp. 55–76; Celis, , Childs, , Kantola, and Krook, , ‘Rethinking Women’s Substantive Representation’; MacKay, Fiona, ‘Gender and Political Representation in the UK: The State of the Discipline’, British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 6 (2004), 99–120; Lovenduski, Joni, ‘Gendering Research in Political Science’, Annual Review of Political Science, 1 (1998), 333–356, for an extensive discussion of this literature and its impact on the wider discipline.
3 Representation is formal or authorized where the representative is legally empowered to act for another; descriptive where the representative stands for a group by virtue of sharing similar characteristics such as race, gender, ethnicity or residence; symbolic where a leader or symbol such as a flag stands for national ideas; and substantive where the representative seeks to advance a group’s policy preferences and interests.
4 Pitkin, Hannah, The Concept of Representation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), p. 209.
5 Schwindt-Bayer, and Mishler, , in ‘An Integrated Model of Women’s Representation’, argue that much of the research in this area is flawed because researchers fail to include all of the elements of representation described by Pitkin. We acknowledge this deficit and see our research as addressing a small necessary precondition that concerns one of the relationships that facilitates representation that should be considered alongside institutional/formal and symbolic representation.
6 Mansbridge, , ‘Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women’.
7 Pitkin, , The Concept of Representation.
8 Mansbridge, , ‘Rethinking Representation’.
9 Phillips, , The Politics of Presence.
10 Childs, Sarah, ‘Hitting the Target: Are Labour Women MPs “Acting For” Women?’ Journal of Theoretical Politics, 12 (2000), 113–124; Childs, Sarah, New Labour’s Women MPs: Women Representing Women (London: Routledge, 2004); Lovenduski, , Feminizing Politics; Diaz, Mercedes Mateo, Representing Women? Female Legislators in West European Parliaments (Colchester, Essex: ECPR Press, 2005).
11 Norris, Pippa, ‘Conservative Attitudes in Recent British Elections: An Emerging Gender Gap?’ Journal of Theoretical Politics, 12 (2000), 113–124; Norris, Pippa and Lovenduski, Joni, Political Recruitment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995); Lovenduski, Joni and Norris, Pippa, ‘Westminster Women: The Politics of Presence’, Political Studies, 51 (2003), 84–102; Kittlison, Miki Caul, Challenging Parties, Changing Parliaments (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 2006).
12 ‘[T]he role model argument, the justice argument, the trust argument, the legitimacy argument, the transformative argument and the overlooked interests argument’ (Dovi, , ‘Theorizing Women’s Representation in the United States’, p. 307).
13 Phillips, Anne, ‘Democracy and Representation: Or, Why Should it Matter Who Our Representatives Are?’ in Anne Phillips, ed., Feminism and Politics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 224–240.
14 Dovi, , ‘Theorizing Women’s Representation in the United States’.
15 Dovi, , ‘Theorizing Women’s Representation in the United States’, p. 309.
16 Weldon, , ‘Beyond Bodies: Institutional Sources of Representation for Women in Democratic Policy Making’, p. 1156.
17 Mansbridge, , ‘Should Blacks Represent Blacks and Women Represent Women’.
18 Such interaction might take place with other women in the legislature and/or the women’s movement.
19 Tolleson-Rinehart, Sue, Gender Consciousness and Politics (London: Routledge, 1992).
20 Diamond, Irene and Hartsock, Nancy, ‘Beyond Interests in Politics: A Comment on Virgina Sapiro’s “When are Interests interesting? The Problem of Political Representation of Women” ’, American Political Science Review, 75 (1981), 717–721; Sapiro, Virginia, ‘Research Frontier Essay: When are Interests Interesting? The Problem of Political Representation of Women’, American Political Science Review, 75 (1981), 701–716; Tolleson-Rinehart, , Gender Consciousness and Politics; Wängnerud, ‘Testing the Politics of Presence’.
21 The potential dangers of making essentialist claims about the differences between men and women have been a major source of debate between feminists. In general, equality feminists have preferred a theoretical approach to gender difference that emphasizes the social construction of gender and denies that there are any innate or ‘essential’ differences between men’s and women’s psychologies (see Dovi, , ‘Preferable Descriptive Representatives’; Dovi, , ‘Theorizing Women’s Representation in the United States’).
22 Dovi, , ‘Theorizing Women’s Representation in the United States’, p. 311.
23 Dovi, , ‘Theorizing Women’s Representation in the United States’, p. 314.
24 We define sex as the biologically based dichotomous distinction between women and men and consider gender to be the socially constructed ideas about women and men that underlie attitudinal and behavioural differences among and between them. The need to use both concepts together is argued in Lovenduski, Joni, ‘Gendering Research in Political Science’, Annual Review of Political Science, 1 (1998), 333–356.
25 Mansbridge, , ‘Rethinking Representation’.
26 Young, Lisa, Feminists and Party Politics (Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2000); Dovi, , ‘Theorizing Women’s Representation in the United States’.
27 Converse, Phillip, ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics’, in David Apter, ed., Ideology and Discontent (New York: The Free Press, 1964), pp. 206–261; Fleishman, John, ‘Attitude Organisation in the General Public: Evidence for a Biodimensional Structure’, Social Forces, 67 (1988), 159–183; Zaller, John, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
28 Converse, , ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics’.
29 Feldman, Stanley, ‘Structure and Consistency in Public Opinion: The Role of Core Beliefs and Values’, American Journal of Political Science, 32 (1988), 416–440; Fleishman, , ‘Attitude Organisation in the General Public’.
30 Inglehart, Ronald, The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1977); Evans, Geoffrey, Heath, Anthony and Lalljee, Mansur, ‘Measuring Left–Right and Libertarian–Authoritarian Values in the British Electorate’, British Journal of Political Science, 47 (1996), 94–112.
31 Inglehart, , The Silent Revolution; De Graaf, Norval and Evans, Geoffrey, ‘Why are the Young More Postmaterialist? A Cross-National Analysis of Individual and Contextual Influences on Postmaterial Values’, Comparative Political Studies, 28 (1996), 608–635.
32 Inglehart, , The Silent Revolution.
33 Norris, Pippa, ‘Gender: A Gender Generation Gap?’ in Geoffrey Evans and Pippa Norris, eds, Critical Elections: British Parties and Voters in Long-Term Perspective (London: Sage, 1999), pp. 146–163.
34 Davis, Nancy and Robinson, Robert, ‘Men’s and Women’s Consciousness of Gender Inequality: Austria, West Germany, Great Britain and the United States’, American Sociological Review, 56 (1991), 72–84; Banaszak, Lee Ann and Plutzer, Eric, ‘Contextual Determinants of Feminist Attitudes: National and Subnational Influences in Western Europe’, American Political Science Review, 87 (1993), 147–157; Banaszak, Lee Ann and Plutzer, Eric, ‘The Social Bases of Feminism in the European Community’, Public Opinion Quarterly, 57 (1993), 29–53.
35 Inglehart, Ronald and Norris, Pippa. Rising Tide: Gender Equality and Cultural Change Around the World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003).
36 Hayes, Bernadette, ‘Gender, Feminism and Electoral Behaviour in Britain’; Electoral Studies, 16 (1997), 203–216.
37 Hayes, , ‘Gender, Feminism and Electoral Behaviour in Britain’, p. 207.
38 Campbell, Rosie, ‘Gender, Ideology and Issue Preference: Is There Such a Thing as Political Women’s Interest in Britain?’ British Journal of Politics and International Relations, 6 (2004), 20–46; Campbell, Rosie, Gender and the Vote in Britain (Colchester, Essex: ECPR Press, 2006).
39 Lovenduski, , Feminizing Politics; Lovenduski and Norris, ‘Westminster Women’.
40 Lena Wängnerud’s Swedish study finds congruence between the attitudes of women representatives and women members of the electorate but no such study currently exists for Britain (Wängnerud, , ‘Testing the Politics of Presence’).
41 Miller, Warren and Stokes, Donald, ‘Constituency Influence in Congress’, American Political Science Review, 57 (1963), 45–56; Gross, Donald, ‘Representative Styles and Legislative Behavior’, Western Political Quarterly, 31 (1978), 359–371; Alpert, Eugene, ‘A Reconceptualisation of Representational Role Theory’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 4 (1979), 587–603; Weissberg, Robert, ‘Assessing Legislator–Constituency Policy Agreement’, Legislative Studies Quarterly, 4 (1979), 605–622.
42 Dalton, Russell, ‘Political Parties and Political Representation’, Comparative Political Studies, 18 (1985), 267–299.
43 Page, Benjamin and Shapiro, Robert, ‘Effects of Public Opinion on Policy’, American Political Science Review, 77, (1983), 175–190.
44 McDonald, Michael, Mendes, Silvia and Budge, Ian, ‘What Are Elections For? Conferring the Median Mandate’, British Journal of Political Science, 34 (2004), 1–26.
45 Achen, Christopher, ‘Measuring Representation’, American Journal of Political Science, 22 (1978), 475–510.
46 The British Election Study (BES) was conducted by David Sanders, Paul Whiteley, Harold Clarke and Marianne Stewart and was funded by the ESRC.
47 The BRS 2005 was conducted by Joni Lovenduski, Sarah Childs and Rosie Campbell and was funded by the Nuffield Foundation (SGS/01180/G). The 1992, 1997 and 2001 BRSs were conducted by Joni Lovenduski and Pippa Norris.
48 The full question wording is: ‘Now we would like your views on some of the general changes that have been taking place in Britain over the last few years. For each of these changes you can say whether you feel it has 1) Gone much too far 2) Gone a little too far 3) Is about right 4) Not gone quite far enough 5) Not gone nearly far enough. Now, using one of the answers on this card, how do you feel about attempts to ensure equality for women?’ Responses are coded from 1 to 5 as described above; we argue that a higher number indicates a more feminist response.
49 Norris, , ‘Gender: A Gender Generation Gap?’; Campbell, , ‘Gender, Ideology and Issue Preference’; Campbell, Gender and the Vote in Britain.
50 Banaszak, Ann Lee and Plutzer, Eric, ‘Contextual Determinants of Feminist Attitudes: National and Subnational Influences in Western Europe’, American Political Science Review, 87 (1993), 147–157.
51 We use the ordinal regression (PLUM) function in SPSS, which is an ordered probit procedure, based upon McCullagh, Peter, ‘Regression Models for Ordinal Data’, Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, Series B 42 (1980), 109–142, when the dependent variable is polytomous, i.e. neither binary nor interval, and OLS regression would be inappropriate.
52 The BRS series contains a panel of repeated sampling of a small number of MPs and candidates who have completed more than one survey for the same seat. There will also be a small number of candidates who are difficult to identify who have completed the survey several times when standing for election in different constituencies. The final group of respondents are those who have completed the survey only once. In order to create a large pooled dataset, we would need to isolate the respondents who have completed only one survey and disregard the rest. This is technically rather complicated and would involve removing some of the MPs who are a valuable element of the sample.
53 The 1983 BES contains a similar question but the coding is not in keeping with the other years. Responses for the other years range from ‘Gone much too far’, ‘Gone a little too far’, ‘About right’, ‘Not quite far enough’ to ‘Not nearly far enough’.
54 The British Election Studies Information System website was used for question searches and amalgamating the data (see www.besis.org).
55 The difference appears to be a cohort effect rather than a function of particular points in time, because a similar pattern is evident within individual surveys.
56 The complete question wording was: ‘Now we would like your views on some of the general changes that have been taking place in Britain over the last few years. For each of these changes you can say whether you feel it has 1) Gone much too far 2) Gone a little too far 3) Is about right 4) Not gone quite far enough 5) Not gone nearly far enough. Now, using one of the answers on this card, how do you feel about attempts to ensure equality for women?’
57 Sue Tolleson-Rinehart found a similar pattern in the US electorate where housewives were the least feminist in their attitudes (Tolleson-Rinehart, , Gender Consciousness and Politics).
58 The descriptive analysis is available from the BRS website: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/polsoc/research/projects/british-representation-study.
59 The responses to the two statements, ‘Women MPs better represent women’s interests than do male MPs’ and ‘Women need to get more involved in politics to solve problems that concern them’, were recoded so that 1 = disagree strongly, 2 = disagree, 3 = neither, 4 = agree and 5 = agree strongly.
60 Factor analysis should be conducted upon interval data. However, Kim and Mueller argue that factor analysis can be used on ordinal data if there is no reason to think that the ordinal values do not seriously distort the true underlying interval scaling (see Kim, Jae-On and Mueller, Charles, Factor Analysis: Statistical Methods and Practical Issue (Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 1978), pp. 74–75.
61 The SPSS output is available from http://www.bbk.ac.uk/polsoc/research/projects/british-representation-study.
62 There was no measure of respondents’ attitudes to equality guarantees or gender quotas; instead, we only have access to the vaguer notion of desirability without reference to mechanisms that might bring about more women MPs.
63 Data provided by Ron Johnston. Population density is used in the analysis as a measure of urban/rural location.
64 Census ward level data of population density were used here.
65 See fn. 52.
66 Lovenduski, , Feminizing Politics.
67 However, not all quotas constitute equality guarantees. Those that guarantee the selection but not the election of women representatives remain examples of equality promotion (Lovenduski, Feminizing Politics).
68 Lovenduski, , Feminizing Politics.
69 Significant at the 0.001 level (ANOVA).
70 The full range of tables are available from http://www.bbk.ac.uk/polsoc/research/projects/british-representation-study
71 The two factors were combined together to make an equality promotion scale. Cronbach’s alpha for 2001 was 0.571, and for 2005 it was 0.602.
72 The sex difference was significant at the 0.001 level (ANOVA).
73 Converse, , ‘The Nature of Belief Systems in Mass Publics’; Nie, Norman and Andersen, Kristi, ‘Mass Belief Systems Revisited’, Journal of Politics, 36 (1974), 540–591; Fleishman, , ‘Attitude Organisation in the General Public’; Zaller, The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion.
74 Thus, we find evidence that the trends identified by Norris and Inglehart are at work in Britain (see Inglehart, and Norris, , Rising Tide).
75 Childs, Sarah and Krook, Mona Lena, ‘Should Feminists Give up on Critical Mass? A Contingent “Yes” ’, Politics and Gender, 2 (2006), 522–530.
76 Childs, Sarah, Lovenduski, Joni and Campbell, Rosie, Women at the Top (London: Hansard, 2005).
* Campbell and Lovenduski: School of Politics and Sociology, Birkbeck College, University of London; and Childs: Department of Politics, University of Bristol (email: firstname.lastname@example.org). The authors are grateful to Pippa Norris for her continuing support of the British Representation Study and for her advice on its development, to Richard Topf for his help with the British Election Studies Information System (www.besis.org), and to Ron Johnston for his help with providing, and explaining how to use, certain statistical data. We would like to thank the anonymous reviewers and editors of the British Journal of Political Science for comments on earlier versions.
Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.
* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.
Usage data cannot currently be displayed