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Why Are Immigrants Underrepresented in Politics? Evidence from Sweden

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 December 2015

Princeton University
Uppsala University
Uppsala University
Stockholm University
Rafaela M. Dancygier is Assistant Professor, Department of Politics and Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University (
Karl-Oskar Lindgren is Associate Professor, Department of Government, Uppsala University, Institute for Evaluation of Labour Market and Education Policy (IFAU), and Uppsala Center for Labor Studies (UCLS) (
Sven Oskarsson is Associate Professor, Department of Government, Uppsala University and Uppsala Center for Labor Studies (UCLS) (
Kåre Vernby is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Stockholm University, Department of Government, Uppsala University, and Uppsala Center for Labor Studies (UCLS) (


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.

Research Article
Copyright © American Political Science Association 2015 

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