A campaign placard of Joe Chialo, one of the few candidates of African origin contesting the federal election, in Berlin. Voters with a migration background are strongly underrepresented in elected political offices in Germany. In the current Bundestag, for example, only 8.2 per cent of the MPs have a migration background/Photo: Femi Awoniyi

Why voters with migrant background could decide Germany’s general election – Study

Voters in Germany will elect a new federal parliament, the Bundestag, on Sunday, 26 September. 60.4 million people are entitled to vote. An estimated twelve percent of them, about 7.4 million people, have a migration background. A new study shows why this minority group could decide the winner of the election even though their issues hardly play a role in the campaign

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Eligible voters with a migration background could significantly influence the distribution of seats in the German Bundestag through their second vote. This is the result of a recent study by Citizens For Europe (CEF), a civil society organisation based in Berlin.

For the first time, the influence of the votes of eligible migrants in elections was investigated: In 167 out of 299 constituencies (56 per cent), the number of eligible migrant voters exceeds the gap between the first and second-placed direct candidates in the last federal election. This means that if they vote as a group, voters with a migration background could decide who wins in these constituencies if the voters’ sentiment remains the same.

But that is not all. According to CEF, the influence of voters with a migration background will continue to grow. In the 2017 federal election, around 6.3 million voters had a migration background. Their share of the electorate is currently about 12 per cent with 7.4 million voters.

CEF forecasts a further increase in influence due to demographic development and rising naturalisation rates among the 11.4 million foreign citizens living in Germany.

Currently, about a quarter of the population has a migration background; among children and young people, this proportion rises to a third. In cities like Frankfurt, Munich and Nuremberg, the proportion among young people is over 60 per cent.

The organisation criticises the fact that more than half of the people with a migration background in Germany are not allowed to vote because the right to vote is still linked to German citizenship and not, for example, to long-term residence.

“People with and without German citizenship thus have largely equal obligations but not equal rights. This can be seen as a violation of the principle of democracy, which provides for all people to participate in decision-making when they are affected by the decisions,” the study says.

This democratic deficit is particularly noticeable in cities. In Berlin alone, for example, there are about 690,000 people without German citizenship who are older than 18 but do not have the right to vote in federal elections. By comparison, Stuttgart, the sixth largest city in Germany, has about 640,000 inhabitants.

Another point of criticism is the lack of representation of the population with a migration background. In the Bundestag, for example, only 8.2 per cent of the MPs have a migration background. The proportion of mayors with an immigrant background is even lower (2 per cent or 5 persons).

According to the study, the lack of representation is also reflected in the lack of prioritisation of migration-related issues in the election campaign. Although numerous civil society alliances and organisations have developed and presented recommendations, these are not or hardly addressed by the parties in election programmes or in the election campaign. “This is probably also a reason why immigrants are less likely to identify with a party,” say the study authors.

Lack of issues concerning people with a migration background in the electioneering campaign could also be responsible for their poor turnout at election time. At the last federal election in 2017, migrant voter turnout was around 20 percentage points below the average of 76.2%.

Kwame Appiah

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