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Melody Ellis Valdini - Research

Published Research:

"Women’s Representation in the Highest Court: A Comparative Analysis of the Appointment of Female Justices." Melody Ellis Valdini and Christopher Shortell, Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 69(4), 2016, Pp. 865–876. pdf

The presence of women justices in the highest constitutional courts varies significantly across countries, yet there is little existing research that engages this substantial cross-national variation. Using an original data set of women’s representation in the constitutional courts in fifty democracies combined with qualitative case studies, we assess the effect of the selection mechanism on this variation and find that the existence of a “sheltered” versus “exposed” selection mechanism is a critical determinant of women’s presence. That is, when the selectors are sheltered from electoral accountability, they are less likely to select women as judges because they do not benefit from credit claiming. When the selectors are exposed and can claim credit, however, the unique traits and visibility of the highest court generate an incentive to appoint women.


The Character of Democracy: How Institutions Shape Politics
By Richard Clucas and Melody Ellis Valdini
Available from Oxford University Press
Table of Contents and Chapter 1. pdf Available from

As it is usually employed in public discourse, the term ‘democracy’ would seem to refer to a singular form of political organization shared by the variety of regimes that claim the designation. But this is only true in the broadest sense of the term. In fact, while they share the “consent of the governed,” these states differ from one another in numerous and important respects. The aims of this book are twofold: to describe the varieties of democratic institutions functioning in democracies today and to explain how differences in institutional designs promote different democratic values.


"Electoral Institutions and the Manifestation of Bias: The Effect of the Personal Vote on the Representation of Women." Melody Ellis Valdini, Politics & Gender, Vol. 9, 2013, Pp. 76–92. pdf

In an effort to unify the existing literature on the personal vote, I offer a new approach. Rather than argue that the personal vote has a universal effect, I argue that the personal vote has a conditional effect that depends on the level of bias against female leaders in a society. In certain cultural environments, the personal vote has no effect on the success of female candidates. In others, however, it has a powerful negative effect on women’s legislative representation. In short, we should not expect this electoral institution to have a consistent positive, negative, or neutral effect; the effect of the personal vote on women’s representation varies by culture.


"A Deterrent to Diversity: The Conditional Effect of Electoral Rules on the Nomination of Women Candidates."

Melody Ellis Valdini, Electoral Studies Vol. 31, No. 4, December 2012, Pp. 740–749. pdf

Previous literature regarding the effects of electoral systems on candidate selection has implied a false dichotomy regarding proportional representation (PR) versus single member districts (SMD). This paper unpacks the category of proportional representation, and finds significant differences in the behavior of selectorates depending on their configuration of PR. Using both a natural experiment as well as an original data set comprised of 1095 party lists, I find that the type of proportional representation – i.e., whether or not the voters are allowed to pick a particular candidate from the party list – can have a significant effect on the number of women candidates selected to run for office. Further, I find that the strength of this effect depends on cultural gender norms; if a substantial segment of society believes that women are best in traditional roles, not as leaders, there is a significant, negative effect of the decisive intraparty preference vote on the nomination of women candidates.

"The Context Matters: The Effects of Single-Member versus At-Large Districts on City Council Diversity." Jessica Trounstine, Melody Ellis Valdini, American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 52, No. 3, July 2008, Pp. 554–569. pdf

Scholars continue to debate the degree to which electoral institutions matter for representation. The literature predicts that minorities benefit from districts while women benefit from at-large elections. The mechanisms by which institutions affect the ability of traditionally underrepresented groups to win seats have been understudied. Using an analysis of over 7,000 cities and interviews with city councilors, we find that compared to at-large systems, district systems can increase diversity only when underrepresented groups are highly concentrated and compose a substantial portion of the population. In addition, we find that the electoral system has a significant effect on representation only for African American male and white female councilors; the proportion of African American women and Latina councilors is not affected by the use of either district or at-large systems.

"Looking for Locals: Voter Information Demands and Personal Vote-Earning Attributes of Legislators under Proportional Representation." Matthew Søberg Shugart, Melody Ellis Valdini, Kati Suominen, American Journal of Political Science Vol. 49, No. 2, 2005, Pp. 437–449. pdf

Proportional representation systems affect the extent to which elected legislators exhibit various attributes that allow them to earn a personal vote. The sources of variation in personal vote-earning attributes (PVEA) lie in informational shortcuts voters use under different electoral rules. List type (closed or open) and district magnitude (the number of legislators elected from a district) affect the types of shortcuts voters employ. When lists are closed, legislators' PVEA are of decreasing usefulness to voters as magnitude (and hence the number of candidates on a list) increases. When lists are open, legislators' PVEA are increasingly useful to voters as magnitude increases, because the number of candidates from which voters must choose whom to give a preference vote increases. As predicted by the theory, the probability that a legislator will exhibit PVEA—operationalized as local birthplace or lower-level electoral experience—declines with magnitude when lists are closed, but rises with magnitude when lists are open.