Why Are Immigrants Underrepresented in Politics? Evidence from Sweden

Rafaela M. Dancygier, Karl Oskar Lindgren, Sven Oskarsson, Kåre Vernby

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations

Abstract

Widespread and persistent political underrepresentation of immigrant-origin minorities poses deep challenges to democratic practice and norms. What accounts for this underrepresentation? Two types of competing explanations are prevalent in the literature: accounts that base minority underrepresentation on individual-level resources and accounts that emphasize political opportunity structures. However, due to the lack of data suitable for testing these explanations, existing research has not been able to adjudicate between these theories. Using registry-based microdata covering the entire Swedish adult population between 1991 and 2010 our study is the first to empirically evaluate these alternative explanations. We examine election outcomes to municipal councils over the course of six elections and find that variation in individual-level resources cannot explain immigrants' underrepresentation. Further, when comparing immigrants and natives who face comparable political opportunity structures a large representation gap remains. Instead, we argue that discrimination by party gatekeepers plays a more significant role in perpetuating the underrepresentation of immigrants than do individual resources or structural variables.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)703-724
Number of pages22
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
Volume109
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 23 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations

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