Migrants as Political Actors

Research question/goal: 

How well are citizens of immigrant origin (io) represented in parliaments? And do members of parliament of io make a difference in the policy-making process and with respect to policies? This project has addressed these questions for the first time, building on the theories of a politics of presence and of party difference, complementing a focus on Germany with an international comparison.

For various political levels (national, regional, local) parliamentarians of io have repeatedly been identified through extensive research efforts. This project has gathered information on the personal and (party-)political background of these parliamentarians, systematised the electoral contexts (constituencies), and analysed parliamentary behaviour (questions, speeches) as well as careers. Observed patterns and analytical results served as a basis for a comparison with theoretical expectations, leading to a (re)formulation of hypotheses and of theoretical approaches.

The analysis has shown that the number and share of parliamentarians of io has increased over time. Parties on the political left are represented by more parliamentarians of io than centre-right parties. Candidates of io are not only selected in a way that was typical of the respective party (e.g. by social background), but also based on characteristics that are related to migration (e.g. country of origin).

While MPs of io cover most policy areas, parties show a substantial interest in them (also) covering policy areas that are related to migration. Indeed, topics that are related to migration are more frequent in their parliamentary questions and speeches compared to the respective ones of native MP’s. These findings support the theory of a politics of presence. The analysis of career patterns indicates that on one hand, many MPs of io serve for just one term, while on the other hand a comparatively large share holds office for a long time. However, when appointed to prestigious positions (e.g. committee leader), the MP’s interest in issues that are related to migration tends to fade.

The project has brought about a number of new research questions. Some of them became the subject of the new international research project "Pathways", with the director of the current project joining these efforts.

Fact sheet

Volkswagen Foundation
2006 to 2015
Data Sources: 
elite interviews, analysis of party and parliamentary documents, postal survey
Geographic Space: 
Western Europe including the European Parliament



Bird, Karen, Thomas Saalfeld and Andreas M. Wüst (Eds.) (2011): The Political Representation of Immigrants and Minorities: Voters, Parties and Parliaments in Liberal Democracies. London: Routledge. [Routledge/ECPR Studies in European Political Science; 70] more