Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Adverse Contagion? Populist Radical Right Parties and Norms on Gender Balance in Political Institutions

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Abstract:  How do male-dominated populist radical right (PRR) parties relate to and influence norms around women’s political inclusion and leadership in mainstream political parties? While research has focused on describing the male dominance of PRR parties or its influence on mainstream political parties’ policies, particularly immigration, we know less about how PRR parties relate to norms on women’s inclusion or gender-balanced representation in mainstream parties. In a theory-building effort, we posit that PRR parties may seek to (a) adapt to mainstream parties’ norms and include more women in leading positions (positive contagion) or (b) negatively affect or even challenge norms around women’s inclusion in mainstream parties (adverse contagion). Seeking to theorize this relationship further, we explore leadership selection in the Swedish Parliament, where gender balance constitutes a strong norm. Yet, following the 2022 elections, the proportion of women parliamentary leaders dipped below 30% for the first time in decades. At the same time, the Sweden Democrats, a male-dominated PRR party, emerged as the second-largest party in Parliament. Drawing on interviews with nomination committees, party documents, and data on leadership, we empirically investigate continuity and change in committee leadership appointments in the Swedish Parliament and the role of the radical right in this process. We do not find signs of adverse contagion in the short run: as of 2023, norms promoting gender balance appear to remain robust and enjoy widespread support among mainstream parties. Yet, neither do we find signs of positive contagion where the radical right adapts to mainstream norms around gender balance.

Keywords:  contagion; gender; political leadership; radical right; Swedish parliament


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© Josefina Erikson, Cecilia Josefsson. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.