Gender balance in winnable seats


I posted earlier this week about the number of candidates running for each party, with a breakdown of candidates by gender. I had a number of questions about how many of these candidates are running in winnable seats.

In this post I run through the number of male and female candidates running for the major parties, broken down by the type of seat (safe or marginal). In short, incumbent MPs are more likely to be men, while both major parties are running more women as non-incumbents than they have current incumbents. Labor is well ahead of the Coalition, and most of the women the Coalition is running for open seats are unlikely to be elected at this election.

I reused a method of analysis I used for this 2018 blog post. I break up candidates from the two major parties between incumbents and non-incumbents. I excluded any candidate running in a safe seat for the opposing party. Safe is defined as a margin of greater than 6% before the election.

Most of these categories look similar to the 2016 candidate data, but in most cases women are doing better than in 2016.

PartySeat typeIncumbents F %Non-incumbents F %

I have ignored 4 Nationals candidates, all men, running against Liberal incumbents in Western Australia and South Australia. It’s arguable if these people count as members of the Coalition.

Women make up a slightly smaller proportion of Labor candidates in safe seats (32% of incumbents and one-third of non-incumbents, down from 1/3 and half respectively). There are a lot more Labor incumbents in safe seats than in 2016 (44 up from 24) and slightly less incumbents in marginal seats (19 down from 22).

Women now make up a majority of Labor incumbents in marginal seats (58% up from 41%), and 60% of Labor non-incumbents running in marginal seats are women, up from 50% in 2016.

My assessment of this situation for Labor: the party has achieved parity amongst new candidates and sitting MPs in marginal seats, indeed has surpassed parity, but is still catching up amongst longer-serving MPs in safer seats. I would expect women will make up a larger part of the Labor caucus if they win this election, thanks to the number of women running in marginal seats.

The Coalition has gone backwards amongst incumbent MPs seeking re-election. Only 12.5% of incumbent Coalition candidates are women. This compares to about 20% of incumbent candidates at the 2016 election.

The Coalition did reasonably well in 2016 in running non-incumbent women for marginal seats, but most of these seats were Labor-held, and the Coalition did not elect many non-incumbents in marginal seats in 2016. So not many of these people ended up in parliament. Only two woman from this category were elected.

Interestingly, the Coalition is actually doing better at running women for open seats where Coalition incumbents have retired. Seven safe Coalition seats are without an incumbent. In these seats, three women were the previous incumbent, and four women are running. In the five Coalition-held marginal seats where the incumbent retired, two of those incumbents were women, and three out of six candidates this time are women (there’s both a man and a woman running in Gilmore).

Despite the rhetoric around the Liberal Party’s “women problem” when women such as Julie Bishop, Kelly O’Dwyer, Julia Banks, Ann Sudmalis and Jane Prentice walked away, the Coalition is actually running as many or more women for these open seats than there were incumbents.

The Coalition is also running a lot of non-incumbent women in marginal seats – but most of these seats are Labor seats, and it seems unlikely that the Coalition will many of these seats.

So while the Coalition is running women for about half of the theoretically winnable open seats, it is massively weighed down by almost all of their incumbent MPs being men. This is relic of past elections.

The real test for the Coalition will come at the next election where they are expected to gain seats. That will be when they will face a choice about who they put into open seats that they can actually win. There is less opportunity to change the demographics of a party when they are on the way down.

As a comparison, I looked at the same data for 2013, when the Coalition came back into power in a big way. The Coalition ran 8 women and 22 men for marginal seats, and 2 women and 12 men for safe seats (again, excluding incumbents). A lot of these people were elected, and thus created a flow-on effect as long as those people remain in their seats.

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  1. Differentiation by gender, is one thing, but an analysis that is equally (or, more) interesting, is differentiation by race/ethnic origin.

    A recent ABC online news report about the election, had some interesting photographs.

    A photograph of Katter and his people, showed them to be a Grumpy Old White Men’s party.

    A photograph of Hanson and her people, showed them to be a white people’s party..

    With them and the nature of Anning’s party, some of these, seem to be Gatherings Of The Klans.

    An interesting statistic in an unrelated (to the election) news report, stated that 700,000 people born in India, now reside in Australia.

    With the different numbers of the different races/ethnic groups, who now live in Australia, I suggest that it would be interesting to see how the proportions of each race/ethnic group of Australian residents, are represented in the candidates of each party that is standing candidates in this federal election.

  2. Both parties seem to be clear examples of the “Glass Cliff” phenomenon. I can see a Labor government having nearly 50/50 representation in its first term, then going back to being male dominated in its second.

    Labor’s quota policy covers “winnable seats”, but there should be separate policies for marginal seats, safe seats and cabinet to ensure are more consistent gender balance.

    Meanwhile the Liberals have more women in marginal seats so they can put forth a small-l face to swinging voters, while the party structure is still very male dominated and conservative. Quotas would make an immense difference. If they have a bad election this year, they could turn their gender balance around in the following one.

    Not discussed in the article is that if the Greens have a good election, their expanded lower house contingent will look very male. Of their winnable looking seats, only Macnamara (to be fair, the most winnable) has a female candidate. They have never had quotas and also never had a gender representation problem, but they’ve never had safe seats either. I think the Greens will need to start doing gender quotas for future elections.

  3. One point of interest in the coalition’s record in running women in “safe” seats is that they don’t have a great record of holding onto them. Think Indi, Mayo and potentially Farrer in this election.

    I don’t think that the same is true with the Labour Party. Plibersek (Sydney) and Kearney (Cooper / Batman) seem to be the only labour women in “safe” but “losable” seats (what a contradiction) but no one is seriously thinking they will lose.

  4. Pollster – I think that, if you consider other liberal party women mp’s, like Julie Bishop, it becomes a person by person thing. I understand that, with Julie Bishop, the seat of Curtin became one of the (I think it was) three safest liberal party seats. If Melissa Parke had not been forced by the ALP, to withdraw her nomination, the ALP would probably have been able to take that seat, with Julie Bishop giving it up, after the liberal party made clear that she was unwanted, and that the liberal party would not allow a woman, or, a Western Australian, to become a liberal party prime minister. After all, the liberal party policy regarding women, is that women should be kept barefoot and pregnant, as women are only useful as sex toys and breeding sows. And, that is demonstrated by the head of liberal party (lack of) intelligence – the hasty one.

    If the liberals had overcome thir aversion to women (and, to Western Australia), and made Julie Bishop prime minister, there would have been no doubt that she would have caused the liberal party to win this election.

    But, with what the liberal party has done, they appear to have shown, quite clearly, that they will do whatever it takes, too lose this election, and, if the voters mess it up and elect the liberals to government, the liberal party can then turn around and say to the people of Australia, “Ha ha – the joke is on you – now, we will punish you for putting us back in government – we wanted to just take our millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money, and retire to the Caymans.”.

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