Studying Descriptive Political Representation through Visibility? A Contribution to Comparative Empirical Research

Claire Vincent-Mory & Laura Morales, Sciences-Po


The study of the political presence of minority or marginalised groups and identities in democratic parliaments is growing in parallel to a context of increasing claims in favour of inclusive political representation. Since 2020, the project โ€œInclusive Parliamentsโ€ has been focusing on the descriptive and substantive representation of seven under-represented groups (women, working class people, ethnic and migrant minorities, religious minorities, LGBTI+ groups, people with disabilities and young people) through the prism of the ‘visibility’.

This paper presents the first empirical results. Based on a novel dataset of parliamentary representatives in four countries (France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom), we confront the empirical challenges of measuring the presence of minority groups among the members of parliament (MPs). Arguing that apprehending such presence is far more complex than is generally assumed in the literature, this paper 1) offers consistent measurement instruments to assess the political under-representation of marginalized groups in democratic parliaments, 2) justifies coding choices and discusses data collection issues, and 3) empirically compares the presence and absence of some of the most relevant intersectional identities in parliaments, such as ‘visible’ minority youth, immigrant origin and religious minority women, LGBTI+ women or disabled women.

We contribute to the research agenda on political inclusion of persons belonging to marginalised groups, by adopting an intersectional and comparative approach including less-examined minority groups (such as youth, LGBTI+ and people with impairments and disabilities) and by operationalizing the concept of ‘visibility’ previously mobilized in a first theoretical paper of the InclusiveParl project.