Does Women’s Knowledge of Voting Rights Affect Their Voting Behaviour in Village Elections? Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in China
For women in rural China, training on voting rights and responsibilities increased their participation in village elections.
Officially, over 80 percent of eligible adults vote in village elections in rural China, but this figure masks a wide gender gap. Using self-report data of when voters mark their own ballots with their own choices, only 60 percent of women actually vote, compared to nearly 90 percent of men. This 30-point gap reflects other disparities, as women have less education, lower literacy rates, and are limited by traditional gender norms that might discourage civic participation. Women could also lack information about their right to vote. If so, this disparity in knowledge could be addressed by implementing voter training programs for women. These programs focus on outlining voting rights, detailing the voting process, and encouraging women to vote.
In this study, the authors examine the impact of voter training on women’s voting behavior in village elections in a random sampling of villages across Fujian and Liaoning provinces in China. Researchers captured changes in women’s voting knowledge and actual voting participation after voter training was offered to both women and village leaders, to women only, or to village leaders only compared to when no training was offered.
Voter training for women increased women’s voting knowledge and actual voting participation, while training for village leaders had no effect.
- At baseline, women, on average, correctly answered less than 70% of knowledge questions about their right to vote and the mechanics of how to exercise this right.
- When women received voter training, they significantly improved their voting knowledge compared to women who did not receive any training (8.0 vs. 2.7 percentage point increase on an 18-question voting knowledge test).
- When only village leaders received voter training, there was no significant impact on women’s voting knowledge, implying that leaders were either not able or not willing to effectively transmit their training to women in the village. The leaders’ own knowledge scores did not change significantly after the intervention, which may help explain why they were not able to transmit this knowledge to others.
- At baseline, under 80% of women—under two-thirds in some villages—fully exercised their voting rights by marking and casting their own ballots.
- Women’s actual voting participation increased by 10 to 15 percentage points in villages where women received voter training, but by less than 3 percentage points in villages where they did not, although these differences were not statistically significant. After adjusting for individual- and village-level variables, the women’s only voter training did have a significant effect on increasing women’s actual voting participation.
- When only village leaders received training, there was no significant impact on women’s voting behavior, which aligns with the lack of change in voting knowledge.
In short, voter training empowered more women in rural China to exercise their right to vote, though effects fell short of closing the gender gap. Qualitative interviews suggested that while women were encouraged by a training convened especially for them—one woman was even inspired to run for village leader and won—other approaches are needed to overcome resistance to women’s political participation among family, village society, and village leaders.
The study randomly chose 10 women and recruited 3 village leaders from each of 72 randomly selected villages in Fujian and Liaoning provinces in China, which held village elections in 2009 or 2010. The final sample included 654 women and 131 village leaders (24 women) from 70 villages.
Villages were randomly assigned either to a control group or to one of three intervention groups, which received voter training for women only, for women and village leaders, or for village leaders only. Training for women presented information about voting rights and responsibilities, the mechanics of voting, and the importance of women’s votes. Training for village leaders used similar material, with emphasis on how to encourage village women to vote.
Participants completed surveys before and after their training and village elections. Women reported whether they voted in the prior election and whether anyone else was involved in their vote, and completed a test of voting knowledge (18 items). Village leaders reported village policies on women and elections, and completed a separate test of voting knowledge (16 items). Over 50 participants also provided individual qualitative interviews (not summarized here).