German elections: are immigrant voters ignored?

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The German electorate comprises some 7.4 million citizens of international origin, while many other millions of foreign residents are not allowed to vote. Both groups are often overlooked by political parties.

More than 60 million people are eligible to vote in the German general election on September 26. But one group is often overlooked by politicians and parties: voters with an immigrant background, many of whom have roots in Turkey, Syria or the former Soviet Union. This group includes some 7.4 million voters, a full 12% of the electorate.

While that number is sizable, this group of voters is rarely addressed directly, says sociologist Sabrina Mayer.She is currently working on a study on people with an immigrant background in Duisburg, a multicultural city in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state. She rides a lot in the city, she says, and is a little surprised “that in such a city, people with an immigrant background are so rarely approached directly with subjects on the subject. campaign posters. “

This could be one of the reasons for the low participation of people with an immigrant background. In the last federal election in 2017, that figure was about 20% below average. This phenomenon can become a vicious cycle, says Mayer: “If a group does not feel concerned, then it votes less often, and therefore the incentive for parties to take up issues is reduced, which is why participation continues. down. “

Getting people to the polls is an issue social activist Ali Can is very familiar with. The initiator of the Twitter hashtag #MeTwo, supposed to draw attention to discrimination, was born in Turkey, is of Kurdish descent and fled to Germany with his family in 1995. Can is also fighting for greater participation election of people with immigrant roots.

A project he launched for the parliamentary elections is a multilingual electoral assistance application. “In the 21st century, getting help with voting shouldn’t be a barrier,” he told DW. But, in addition to information on the voting procedure and the candidates, access to the ballot boxes requires a multifaceted approach that appeals to emotion. “We have failed to make people with an immigrant background feel that they are also part of Germany,” he said.

Activist Ali Can wants to draw attention to discrimination, also in German politics | Photo: private

Little scientific data

Little is known about which migrant groups vote for which party and why. Targeted studies would be needed to get a clearer picture, but they cost money and often only include the largest groups of migrants.

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) is a German political foundation affiliated with Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Party (CDU), which holds power with its sister Bavarian party, the Christian Social Union (CSU). The KAS foundation carried out two of these studies, in 2015 and 2019, with a focus on the three largest migrant groups in Germany. These are people of Turkish (2.8 million), Russian (1.4 million) and Polish (2.2 million) origin.

Few parties directly address immigrant voters with their election posters |  Photo: Elliot Douglas / DW
Few parties directly address immigrant voters with their election posters | Photo: Elliot Douglas / DW

In two groups, the result remained relatively constant for a long time, according to one of the studies: “People who arrived more recently from Russia voted more often than average for the CDU and CSU; people of Turkish origin for the Social Democrats (SPD). “In recent years, however, the ‘fixed models’ have weakened and, instead, there is a ‘high degree of mobility between political parties.’ Studies show that many of those who were of Russian descent and who had the right to vote migrated from the center-right CDU / CSU to the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD); those of Turkish origin no longer remained loyal to the center-left SPD, but instead voted more often for the CDU / CSU As regards the large Polish community in Germany, the Green Party benefited from the change in voter loyalty.

A good sign for democracy

This new mobility in the ballot box should be seen as a sign of “normalization”, believe researchers from the KAS foundation. After all, electoral mobility has increased in general, including among the rest of the German population. Mayer also sees it this way: “Party loyalty decreases, decisions are made based on topics and what attracts people is what matters, instead of people just voting en bloc for a party that has always been associated with their own group. “

But the parties do not seem to want to take advantage of this opportunity. “People with an immigrant background represent a considerable electoral potential for political parties”, according to the organization “Citizens For Europe”. But on condition “that they adapt their offer and their political program to an increasingly diverse electorate”. In many cases, according to Mediendienst Integration, a press service focusing on migration and integration issues, many topics that matter most to immigrants are ignored by politicians.

Credit: DW
Credit: DW

Even if one takes into account eligible voters of non-German origin, there are almost as many people living in Germany who are of voting age but totally excluded from the electoral process: those of foreign origin who are not allowed to vote here because they do not have German nationality. That’s 8.7 million people.

Greater representation of people of international origin in the political class, for example, could counteract this. But for now, they remain rare in the German parliament, the Bundestag: only 58 of its 709 members have non-German roots.

This article was translated from German.

Author: Kay-Alexander Scholz

First published: September 15, 2021

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Source: dw.com


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