ArticlesSHE Speaks

SHESpeaks about whether voters vote for women candidates

Do Voters Vote for Women?

It has been said to SHE on more than one occasion that people do not vote for women. We decided to see if there was any truth in this by looking at the votes cast in some of the rural constituencies of the Northwest and Midlands. We found that there does not seem to be a relationship between gender and the chance of getting a first preference vote. In other words, being a woman candidate does not make any difference to your chance of voters giving you their first preference vote.

First we need to recognise upfront that this is an overview only to look for indications in the 2019 local election data. It is based on first preference votes in just 5 counties, with no weightings applied for factors that are found to favour election success, or patterns of transfers.

We looked at the counties of Donegal[1], Leitrim[2], Sligo[3], Roscommon[4], and Longford[5] which between them have 19 local electoral areas. In the 2019 local elections 224 people had their names on the ballot papers across those 19 electoral areas. 180 of them were men (80.36%) and 44 of them were women (19.64%). In all, 173,930 first preference votes were cast across the region. The 44 women representing 19.64% of the candidates got 15.77% of those first preference votes cast. In the ballpark yes – but the votes are definitely skewed towards male candidates.

But not all voters in the region had the opportunity (or not) to take gender into account as they cast their votes. Three of the electoral areas had no women on the ballot papers. They were Lifford-Stranorlar in Donegal, Ballymote-Tubbercurry in Sligo, and Athlone in Roscommon. Those three electoral areas accounted for 35,760 first preference votes. If we deduct these first preference votes from the total, it changes the picture. We still have 19.64% of the candidates being women, but this time across the remaining 16 local electoral areas they got 19.85% of the first preference votes.

There are outliers at either end of the calculations. In Carndonagh in Donegal 37.5% of the candidates were women, but there they received only 15.26% of the first preference votes. In contrast, in the Roscommon local election area Orla Leydon and Kathleen Shanagher represented 18% of the candidates but got over 25% of the first preference votes. But in more than half of local electoral areas the difference is very little, as per our table below. Of course to make a definitive assessment we need to interrogate the voting data further over a series of elections and to take into account variables such as incumbency and family dynasties that assist the probability of election success, as well as the pattern of transfers. But from this initial overview of first preference votes, it seems that there is little or no relationship between the gender of the candidate and their chance of getting a first preference vote.


Local Electoral Area% of candidates that were women% of 1st preference votes women got