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Keywords:

  • issue-salience;
  • substantive representation;
  • women;
  • elections

Research Highlights and Abstract

This article

  • Responds to recent calls for a more holistic approach to studying the substantive representation of women (SRW). Specifically, it explores the nexus between the SRW and issue-salience. A theoretically-informed review of the literature and analysis of party manifestos in UK elections 1945–2010 both confirm that this matters to contemporary understanding of the SRW.
  • Extends existing understanding of the substantive representation of women by reviewing relevant theory and providing new, empirical research findings.
  • Heeds earlier calls for the combination of content and critical discourse analysis in policy studies. Thus this mixed methodology responds to earlier calls for social research to ‘humanize’ quantitative data by focusing on language and meaning related to specific phenomena, notably from political actors' perspectives.
  • Includes a future research agenda emerging from the present study. It is one that will extend contemporary understanding of the substantive representation of women and generate debate and further research.

The following discussion responds to recent calls for a more holistic approach to studying the substantive representation of women (SRW). It uses mixed methods to explore the nexus between the SRW and issue salience in the manifesto discourse of UK state-wide elections 1945–2010. The data show that issue salience does matter to the SRW because it is part of on-going patterns and processes of party politicization linked to electoral cycles. The present findings also affirm that whilst there has been a trend of increasing issue salience over the post-war period, the SRW has also been subject to periods of set-back and reversal. Thus its status amongst competing policy priorities remains ‘fragile’; in turn, this raises issues of institutional sexism in the formative, agenda-setting phase of parties' public policy-making.