Last year the IDB hosted the screening and panel discussion of Madame Presidenta: Why not US?, a documentary that asks what would it take to elect a female President in the US, like Brazil did in 2010. Recent data about the 2014 Brazilian election suggests another question: is Brazil the example to follow when it comes to gender, race and politics?
According to the Inter-parliamentary Union, Brazil has the second lowest number of women in congress in Latin America and the Caribbean, after Haiti. While the regional average of women in the chamber of deputies is 27.2% and 24.7% in the senate, in Brazil women currently occupy only 9.9% of seats in the chamber and 13.6% of seats in the senate. African descendant women continue to be hugely underrepresented in both spheres occupying a mere 3.7% (3 of 81) of seats in the senate and 1.9% (10 of 513) of seats in the chamber of deputies, despite representing 26.6% of the Brazilian population. Moreover, there are no elected indigenous peoples or Asian women in those spheres.
Lack of funding has been identified as one of the biggest challenges for the entry of women and ethnic groups into politics. Money matters, but new data released by the Brazilian Superior Electoral Court from the 2014 elections suggests that the amount of money spent on campaigns may not play such a central role in influencing electoral outcomes for underrepresented groups.
Our first finding is that men in general, independent of the amount of campaign money spent, fared better than women. We found a small difference between campaign funds spent by women and men on average, but big disparities in success rates for all race groups. Female candidates for the chamber of deputies spent on average US$1.33 million and male candidates US$1.37 million, a non-statistically significant difference. On the other hand, only 3% of female candidates that ran for office were elected, compared to a 10.5% success rate for male candidates.
The starkest difference is between males and females of African descent. African descendant female candidates spent $1.21 million and had a 1.3% chance of being elected, while African descendant men spent a slightly lower but non-statistically significant amount (on average about $1.20 million) and had a success rate about four times higher (5.5%) compared to African descendant women. White male candidates had the highest success rate of all groups, about 13.9%, but raised only a slightly higher yet statistically significant amount compared to white women ($1.48 million and $1.43 million, respectively). Only 4.1% of white female candidates that ran for the chamber of deputies were elected. Overall, the candidate success rates for Brazil’s 2014 elections are significantly lower than the regional average of 24% for men and 15% for women.
Funding is not the only factor
Our second finding is that Asians fared the worst. They spent the most money per capita of any group and won only two seats, both of which went to men in the state assemblies. Asian men and women running for the chamber of deputies spent on average $1.7 million.
Our third finding is that indigenous candidates are woefully underfunded, spending the least amount per capita of any group. Moreover, while indigenous female candidates spent more money per capita ($0.97 million) than their male counterparts ($0.38) neither won a seat in the chamber of deputies.
Although the data clearly shows women closely trailing men when it comes to campaign spending, funding is not the only factor influencing a candidate’s electoral success. Researchers in the past have exploited natural experiments to shed light on these factors. Steve Levitt in his seminal study of repeat election bids of the same Congressional candidates over time finds that marginal changes in campaign spending produce negligible changes in electoral outcomes when other candidate characteristics are held constant.
This finding reinforces the fact that other factors also play an important role in determining a candidate’s success. These include the effects of incumbency, implementation of candidate quotas, party organization support, access to moneyed networks, training of candidates and their advocates, and media coverage, among others. This is especially true for increasing candidate success rates of ethnic women who need to overcome the double barriers of both gender and racial discrimination. More experimental studies and analysis disaggregated by sex and race are needed to isolate the effects of money, gender and race on electoral success.