How well are Minorities represented in National Parliaments?
When we talk about politics, we talk about the representation of people and norms in a nation. We talk about representatives, who work for the people and with the people, to ensure that society is in a constant drive towards innovation and development. Politics is the wheel of a nation. Depending on the road ahead it can drive innovation fast or it can slow it down. This wheel has however only worked as long as its rider trusted it. What if that trust was broken? What if that rider is a symbol of our trust to our government? Times and times we experience the clash of ideologies whenever we get together with our families. We all have that one uncle/aunt that claims the government is working against us or keeps us in the loop of the most recent conspiracy theories. Decreasing trust also shows its appearance through an increase in votes for extreme opposition groups. In Germany it is a far-right party that rose from the Pegida movement, in the United Kingdom it’s the BREXIT, in the United States and Brazil it‘s Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro. These are visible symptoms anyone can observe. Any medical doctor would tell you that treating symptoms of a sickness doesn‘t fight the actual cause of the symptoms, it only treats the visible issues. If voting for extreme groups is a symptom of the lack of trust in the government and its officials, how do we cure this sickness? I want to focus on an aspect that many talk about but isn‘t really taken serious: The issue that people don‘t feel heard nor adequately represented anymore. This idea however often focuses on a specific group: A privileged group that feels threatened by changes, which could possibly lower their „status“. Most of the time it is forgotten that minority groups feel the same, when it comes to not being adequately heard nor represented. The difference between the two groups, however, is that politicians often re-orient their policy stances towards more privileged groups in order to gain votes. The thought behind it is that privileged groups can be better mobilized and thereby politicians have higher chances of gaining votes. What does that highlight? It underlines that even though we write the year 2020, the fears and wishes of privileged groups are still weighed more than those of minorities. That is one of the reasons why the Christian Social Union in Germany has oriented itself closer to far right policies or why the Republicans have stood unitedly behind Trump‘s discriminatory rhetoric.
Politicians forget one thing though: Countries have become more diverse in the last decades and the trend is only going up. Re-orienting policies towards minorities and supporting politicians with a minority background – and I‘m not only talking about PoC, I‘m talking about financially disadvantaged families, Single-parent households, people with disabilities, the LGBTQI community – could mobilize more potential voters because of one single factor: REPRESENTATION. But most importantly it could mobilize the YOUTH! Those, who will continue to vote for the next decades to come and those, who have been most election-lazy in recent years, simply because they have a „role model“ to look up to. There is great potential for officials running to include policies benefiting minorities and thereby mobilize voters of those groups specifically. We looked at different countries and analyzed the make up of national parliaments. As national laws make it hard to raise data on the ethnicity and background of parliament members, we can‘t offer 100% accurate data for all countries. Some of our data are estimates we made, based on the information we found on individual parliament members. Our estimates (we marked them with *) can therefore only give a rough idea of the reality in national parliaments.
Parties still neglect potential candidates with a minority background. This phenomenon has been already observed for many years, when it comes to supporting female candidates during elections: Parties decide, who to nominate or support during elections. It so happens that more men than women were nominated or supported by their parties. One of the reasons why the State Parliament Brandenburg (Germany) passed a parity law to increase the election chances of female candidates. This same phenomenon has been perceived when it comes to supporting candidates from minority groups.
One example that could highlight this issue in a better light is Sener Sahin’s case within the the Germany’s Christian Social Union. Sahin, a German Muslim, was nominated as a candidate for the mayor position in Wallerstein by the party leaders. Resistance within the party base to confirm his nomination was however so high, that it ultimately lead to his withdrawal as a candidate. The fact that Christian party leaders have identified minority candidates (in this case a muslim candidate) as a way to gain voters, only underlines how important this topic is going to be in the near future! Actually, it is already important in some countries: let’s take the United States for instance. No voting group has had so much power in recent years like female, black voters (if properly mobilized). Both parties have understood this already, especially after the Obama election, and it’s the reason why some legislators are working towards making voting harder in areas, where this particular group resides (maybe I will write about this specifically in another Post). Asian and Latin votes are crucial in states like California or Texas, and the Cuban votes are essential in Florida. Representation matters! We all know that and parties can gain votes by simply nominating candidates, who we can identify with. So why aren‘t they doing that more?
Sahin‘s withdrawal as a candidate highlights something important: Even though party leaders might support candidates with minority backgrounds, doesn’t necessarily mean that the party base does so as well!
“Local party leaders tend to see them as less viable. Consequently, one reason for the continued underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in office may be that, unless they view a minority candidate as a sufficiently attractive on other dimensions, parties are less likely to recruit them.” D. Doherty, C. Dowling and M. Miller: HOW LOCAL POLITICAL PARTY LEADERS PERPETUATE THE UNDERREPRESENTATION OF MINORITIES IN U.S. GOVERNMENT
This becomes even more clear if we look at the US party system: Some of the most important partisans are the local party’s chairpersons. A paper published by David Doherty, Conor Dowling and Michael Miller explains, why such chairpersons are so important and how their biases can influence nominations. One of the tasks of the Chairperson is to identify and recruit possible candidates. Their opinion is essential during the election process. During the study chairpersons were asked, which potential candidates seemed more fit for the nomination. Turns out that Black and Latinx candidates were seen as “less viable”. To quote the paper “Local party leaders tend to see them as less viable. Consequently, one reason for the continued underrepresentation of racial and ethnic minorities in office may be that, unless they view a minority candidate as a sufficiently attractive on other dimensions, parties are less likely to recruit them.”
It is therefore important to include more people from minority groups into parties, starting by promoting and encouraging young people from such groups to participate in the parties youth organizations. But more importantly we need to actively work against biases that affect mainly minority groups. It is no longer enough to have a „Quota Arab or Quota Latinx“ to show off in the media. We need to not only encourage people from minority groups to become politically active but we also need to support them! If we want to make the world more equal and accessible, we have to hold on to our idealism and we have to fight for these norms.
Data on Young Members of Parliaments: https://www.ipu.org/file/7939/download
Data on Female Members of Parliament in national Parliaments:
France: https://www.mic.com/articles/180867/france-convenes-youngest-most-diverse-parliament-in-its-history-is-this-the-future-of-europe https://www.france24.com/en/20170621-france-diversity-gains-ground-new-look-national-assembly-after-legislative-election
Spain: https://www.thinkspain.com/news-spain/27186/ethnic-minorities-under-represented-in-spanish-politics-despite-country-s-healthy-attitude-to-foreigners-says-pathway-to-power https://www.google.de/amp/s/english.elpais.com/elpais/2016/02/22/inenglish/1456150941_431026.html%3foutputType=amp