Immigrants are severely underrepresented in city halls and national parliaments around the world. In most European countries and even in traditional immigration destinations, the share of immigrants who hold elected office is much lower than their share in the population. Sweden is also part of this trend. The fact that substantial parts of the population face barriers when seeking to enter electoral politics poses deep challenges to democratic practice and norms. Minority representatives often articulate the interests of minority constituents, and, in doing so, introduce perspectives to deliberative decision-making processes that would otherwise remain ignored. The presence of minority representatives can also lessen minority groups’ sense of marginalization. Descriptive representation can signal that the political system is inclusive of minority voices and, further, that the majority society accepts or even welcomes diversity. Finally, and most dramatically, it has been argued that the political exclusion of immigrant-origin minorities has contributed to social unrest, such as riots. 

We will study the origins of the underrepresentation of immigrants. Our previous research has shown that, in Sweden,  immigrants are about half as likely to be elected to local government as are natives, and that even when comparing immigrants and natives with comparable individual-level resources and who face similar political opportunity structures a large representation gap remains. While our existing work has significantly advanced our knowledge about the factors that are associated with immigrants’ successful entry into political life, future work is necessary to pinpoint why immigrants feel discouraged from running for office and what the role of party elites is in this process. To find answers to these questions, we propose to build on our existing work, which has used registry based data and to conduct targeted surveys and interviews of the immigrant and native population as well as members of nomination committees. We intend to find out how immigrants’ perceptions of the political process and of their chances of winning elected office differ from those of natives and, further, how and whether these perceptions help drive immigrant political underrepresentation. 

Contact: Kåre Vernby