Of the almost 62 million eligible voters in Germany, around 10 percent have an immigration background. A large proportion of this group are people with roots in Russia, Kazakhstan, Poland and Romania who are German citizens and therefore entitled to vote. In addition, the group is composed of former foreign workers and their descendants, mainly from Turkey. Due to the fact that the population without an immigration background is aging and the population that does have an immigrant background is younger overall, the relative share of eligible voters with roots in other countries is rising slowly but continuously. Therefore, it is all the more relevant to devote attention to the state of research regarding the political views and the political behavior of this very heterogenous group of citizens.
Which factors influence voter turnout among people with an immigration background?
To begin with, it is noticeable that the data basis is thin and that there are few analyses dealing with electoral sociology. Still, some patterns emerge rather clearly. It may be regarded as certain –also in light of internationally comparable research – that voter turnout among people with an immigrant background is lower.
While earlier studies pointed towards the influence of education and especially a generational effect, newer data shows that other factors are more decisive: Someone is more likely to take part in elections if they are integrated through social interactions, talk about politics, plan to stay in Germany and believe that their own individual vote can influence expected policy. In addition, voter turnout is higher when feeling personally addressed, while discriminatory experiences have the opposite effect. Finally, knowledge about how the political system functions leads to a higher degree of political activism among people with an immigration background. If the widely held thesis is correct that knowledge of Germany's political system is lower among immigrants, then this constitutes a clear task for political education.
Are there party affiliations?
In regard to party affiliations, it must first be noted that there is no consistent pattern among Germans with an immigration background. If one initially disregards repatriates, late repatriates and more recent immigrant groups from Eastern Europe, a pattern already known from other countries emerges, namely that of a strong preference for parties left of the center. Evidently, experiences made in the country of origin as well as those of migration, integration and discrimination are factors for this preference. However, the research results obtained so far still leave a lot of room for more differentiated analyses.
(Late) repatriates still tend to lean towards the Union parties, partly out of gratitude for the newly-granted possibility of emigrating to Germany in the 1990s. However, the strength of party affiliations for this group (for the CDU/CSU) as well as for people of Turkish origin (for the SPD) found in earlier studies seems to have decreased.
The beneficiaries of this development are the smaller parties, something which also has been true for the population without an immigration background in recent years. Once again it becomes apparent that party affiliations among people with an immigration background are also not cast in stone.
The expert opinion closes with a recommendation to establish a broader data basis. This is needed in order to empirically test hypotheses that were already raised, check their plausibility and also detect changes. In particular, adequately taking into account more recent groups of immigrants who are coming to Germany and successively gaining citizenships is crucial.
About the authors
Dr. Andreas M. Wüst has been a lecturer at the Stuttgart University since 2018. In his lectures, research and many specialist publications he mainly deals with questions of political representation, voting behaviors and individual election campaigns as well as questions of migration and integration.
Prof. Dr. Thorsten Faas has been Professor for Political Sociology of the Federal Republic of Germany at the Otto-Suhr-Insitut for Political Science at the FU Berlin since October 2017. In his research, he deals with elections, election campaigns and election studies – online and offline.
FES-contact: Dietmar Molthagen, Forum Berlin
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