Acta Politica

, Volume 53, Issue 3, pp 469–487 | Cite as

Forced to vote, but not for women. The effect of compulsory voting on voting for women

  • Bram WautersEmail author
  • Robin Devroe
Original Article


Compulsory voting is an underexposed factor of the electoral system that possibly influences women’s descriptive representation. Studlar and McAllister (Eur J Polit Res 41(2):233–253, 2002) found a negative effect, but no theoretical explanations were given. We develop two possible explanations: voters who only vote because they have to are less politically sophisticated, and therefore vote less sophisticatedly, and/or they have different attitudes about women in political life. From our study, we are able to detect a gendered effect of compulsory voting in Belgium’s flexible-list PR system, but only the vote sophistication explanation is confirmed. Voters who would no longer vote without compulsory voting significantly vote more for top candidates (mostly men) and give significantly less preference votes for candidates lower down the list. This points us to the complexity of the ballot structure as an important new dimension that could help explain gendered voting effects of compulsory voting systems. Finally, since different effects for formal and descriptive representation appear, we posit that compulsory voting constitutes a dilemma for women activists.


Compulsory voting Women Gender Electoral systems Preference voting Belgium 


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Copyright information

© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ghent UniversityGhentBelgium

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