Literature Review: Candidate Supply Is Not a Barrier to Immigrant Representation

Photo Credit: Till Burmann/

Dancygier, Rafaela, Karl-Oskar Lindgren, Pär Nyman, Kåre Vernby (2020). Candidate Supply Is Not a Barrier to Immigrant Representation: A Case–Control Study. In American Journal of Political Science. Doi:

In their recently published article in the American Journal of Political Science, Rafaela Dancygier, Karl-Oskar Lindgren, Pär Nyman and Kåre Vernby study why demographic changes do not translate into more diverse elected bodies. While the number of migrated people increases in West-European countries, politicians with foreign origin remain an exception.  Previous research engaging with the underrepresentation of immigrants in parliaments identify the role of party gatekeepers or structural factors as cause. The authors now shift our attention to the supply side and individual-level characteristics to answer the research question: Is it possible that immigrants are simply less interested in political engagement? Having to cope with economic and social integration, migrants might not prioritize political involvement, especially if they are confronted with unknown political and institutional structures. Hence, studies emphasizing the crucial role of party gatekeepers might have overlooked the supply-effect dimension in the multiple stages of the election process. For the analysis, the authors focus on the 2014 municipal election in Sweden as the municipal office works as a political career’s starting point and is of high importance for the Swedish welfare system. In addition, the Swedish party-list proportional system is comparable with typical West European electoral systems – making the results transferable to a broader set of cases. Using an innovative methodology rarely applied in political science, the authors build a case-control design with 6386 observations: one group includes a random sample of individuals that run for office, the other group people not running for office. The collection of data on the characteristics of both groups are then correlated with the outcome of interest using information from government registers about the immigrant and nomination/election-status as well as with individual level data such as political socialization, interest, efficacy retrieved from a registry-linked survey. The results reveal that immigrants are neither less interested, nor politically differently socialized or less motivated than natives, thus, they discharge a supply side effect. Eligible immigrants rather face hurdles of 1) not being nominated and 2) not being placed on an electable list position. The probability for natives to transition from the step of willingness-to-run to being nominated is twice as likely than for immigrants; with even a higher drop-off in the share of those winning the election. The findings are robust beyond qualification, national origin or background and party membership.

The article enhances our knowledge about the limited role of the supply side of candidate recruitment for the descriptive representation of immigrants. The authors themselves point to the naturally following question of why do party gatekeepers hesitate to support immigrants’ electoral careers. I wonder, whether a closed-up look into the differences between single municipalities of the selected cases might help to shed light on this question. By identifying where immigrant’s chances of support had been significantly high or low, and linking them to local demographic and structural factors, research might draw conclusions on party elites’ recruitment strategies.  As gatekeepers might not necessarily hold prejudices but rather fear that native voters hold bias against aspirants with migrant background, it would be especially interesting to look at the electorates’ composition. In municipalities with a high share of immigrants and cultural places of encounter supporting the integration status, party elites might be less opposed to immigrants’ candidacies – expecting lower political punishment at the ballots. All in all, the article does not only provide highly important substantive findings, but innovatively introduces the case-control design to political science.

By Joanna Hüffelmann in December 2020

Joanna Hüffelmann is a graduate student and research assistant at the Chair of Comparative Politics at the University of Greifswald. Her research interests include the effects of participatory integration in democratic institutions, political behaviour and inequality in politics. 

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