Migration and mobility: a problem for democracy and political participation?

Prof. Oliver Strijbis, migration and mobility show the deficits in the organization of democratic participation. On the one hand, migrants have limited – if at all – voting rights in their country of arrival. On the other hand they can vote in the countries they left. How is increasing immigration having an impact on who should have the right to vote and decide where?

I agree that there is an increasing discrepancy between who is affected by political decisions and who is taking them. Due to immigration and emigration we are in a situation where often immigrants, that live in a state already for years, cannot participate in decision making, be it via elections or direct democratic votes. At the same time the number of emigrants that can vote in the country which they left years ago is increasing. Nevertheless, I think that the pressure to reduce this discrepancy is not very strong. The reason is that for two centuries or so we have adopted the idea that it is the nation – and not the most affected individuals – that should take the decisions within the state. And since a person’s nationality is considered as the objective indicator on who belongs to this nation, it is considered legitimate that foreigners do not have the right to vote. It is telling that even among a large share of the left voters this seems to be so self-speaking that they are against voting rights for foreigners and are in favor of voting rights of nationals abroad (“expatriates”). Nevertheless, in countries like Luxembourg or Switzerland this discrepancy has become so large that a slowly increasing share of the voters understands that immigrants must be naturalized more quickly or that foreigners must receive the right to vote after a certain period of residence in order to avoid this mismatch.

International connections and the mobility between migrants are increasing, while we experience the opening of networks that facilitate flows of information, knowledge and shared experiences. Can international migrants be understood as “agents of democratic diffusion”?

In the short term migrants typically stick to the values they have adopted in the country of residence. Hence, it will depend a lot on the political socialization of the migrants. Since migration more often flows from less developed and less democratic countries to rich democracies, the migrants hold on average not more democratic values than the natives. An example are migrants from underdeveloped regions in Turkey that are loyal to President Erdogan and often do not hold the most democratic attitudes. However, in the long term this is usually reversed. Almost everywhere migrants assimilate over time and generations to the culture of the receiving country and hence also adopt these values. In these instances the migrants might be considered agents of democratic diffusion because they communicate their democratic attitudes to friends and families in their sending state. Or it works with celebrities via the media, think in persons like the German politician Cem Özdemir.

Your survey tool 50plus1, used to analyse vote preferences in Switzerland, considered also the upcoming vote about limited immigration. As far as results show, is there volatility among voters and how can you explain that?

Yes, I am conducting so called “prediction markets” or “information markets” to predict direct democratic votes. These markets work a like betting agencies and are quite good in forecasting outcomes of direct democratic votes. The forecasts are very stable since March and they predict with at least 90% probability that the Swiss will vote against this initiative from the SVP. Even more, the most likely outcome is considered to be a yes-vote share of less than 40%. This would be quite a defeat for the SVP. But it would come with little surprise. Whenever the voters perceive that an initiative of the SVP would lead to the termination of the bilateral treaties they turn against it. With the initiative “against mass immigration” this was different and this is why it narrowly passed while the current initiative seems to receive very limited support only.

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