Risk Aversion and the Gender Gap in the Vote for Populist Radical Right Parties

The forthcoming article “Risk Aversion and the Gender Gap in the Vote for Populist Radical Right Parties” by Odelia Oshri, Liran Harsgor, Reut Itzkovitch-Malka, and Or Tuttnauer is summarized by the authors below. 

Why do fewer women vote for populist radical right parties compared to men? 

With the growing power of populist radical right parties (PRRPs) in Europe, a seminal question which is often discussed in both media and academia: Who votes for these parties? What characterizes their constituencies, and are they similar across countries? One statistical fact seems to be uniform: Women are significantly less likely to vote for PRRPs compared to men. What explains this gender gap in the support for PRRPs? 

In our recent paper we maintain that, for an individual, voting for a PRRP is fraught with a certain degree of risk. Not only are these parties comparatively unknown entities with limited parliamentary experience at best, but they also challenge the certainties of the existing political order. Consequently, we expect that risk-averse voters will shun them during elections. We establish that women are more risk-averse than men on two relevant dimensions. First, electorally, women tend more than men to avoid voting for parties that have no chance of winning seats in parliament, in case in point, many of the PRRPs; and second, in regard of socially acceptable behavior, women are less prone than men to translate their extreme ideological positions to vote choice.  

That said, we argue that the risk of voting for PRRPs varies depending on the electoral context. When PRRPs’ prospects to (re)enter parliament are high, the decision to vote for these parties is less risky, both electorally and socially: electorally, because in such circumstances, voting for these parties would not be tantamount to wasting one’s vote; socially, because when a PRRP has previously been supported by a large enough portion of the electorate, it can be perceived as a normative political player. 

Leveraging evidence from a large cross-national study as well as from a case study of Germany, we find that the gender gap in voting for PRRPs is higher in risky electoral contexts, i.e., when these parties are marginalized. As populist radical right parties garner sufficient electoral support, voting for them is considered less risky, therefore yielding less gender differences in the vote.  

The focal question of why women are more risk averse than men when it comes to political behavior fell beyond the scope of our study.  It might be, however, that women set great store by voting, perhaps more so than do men – after all, women’s suffrage is a relatively recent historical phenomenon. Our findings open the gate for further exciting theoretical and empirical research on this topic.  

About the Authors: Odelia Oshri is an Assistant Professor in the Political Science Department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Liran Harsgor is an Assistant Professor at the Division of Government and Political Theory, School of Political Science, University of Haifa. Reut Itzkovitch-Malka is an Assistant Professor of Political Science, in the Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communication, at the Open University of Israel, and Or Tuttnauer is an Alexander von Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow at the Mannheim Centre for European Social Research. Their research “Risk Aversion and the Gender Gap in the Vote for Populist Radical Right Parties” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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