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Immigrants who experience discrimination are less likely to vote

Immigrants who are active in religious organizations in Sweden are less likely to participate in politics compared to immigrants who are not active in such organizations, a new PhD study from Stockholm University shows. Those who have experienced societal discrimination based on religion are even less likely to participate in politics or to vote. The greatest impact is seen among Muslims in Sweden.

Two female muslims walking down the street.
Photo: Mostphotos

“It is important from a democratic perspective to understand how to increase immigrants’ political participation because they are consistently found to be less active in politics than natives. This can be explained largely by a gap in socio-economic factors like income, unemployment, and education,” says Weiqian Xia, a newly appointed PhD at the Department of Sociology of Stockholm University and author of the study “The Political Sociology of Religion: The Impact of Religion on Political Attitudes and Behaviors in Secularizing European Societies”. 

Weiqian Xia
Weiqian Xia. Photo Leila Zoubir/Stockholm University

Previous studies from other countries, for example, the US and the UK, suggest that religious engagement, similar to participation in other civic organizations, can increase immigrants’ political participation. According to this theory, providing resources and networks and building democratic norms fosters civic engagement and participation in politics. 

In contrast to those findings, the new PhD thesis shows that immigrants who are actively engaged in religious organizations in Sweden are actually less politically active than non-religious immigrants. This is the case both in terms of voting in elections and participating in political meetings or demonstrations. 

The study points out that the political participation level of immigrants in Sweden, especially in elections, is considerably higher than in other countries. 

“Therefore, their participation rate may have reached a ceiling, where religious engagement can do little to further increase it. Additionally, the data are based on immigrants who are relatively well established in Sweden”, says Weiqian Xia. 

The study also shows that religious immigrants, especially Muslims, who experience religion-based discrimination like harassment or bullying in Sweden are even less likely to vote. Muslims who had experienced discrimination were 20.6 percentage points less likely to vote in the election in 2010 compared to Muslims who had not experienced such discrimination when taking other factors into consideration. The actual voting turnout was 15.1 percentage points lower for this group compared to Muslims who had not experienced such discrimination. 

“This is consistent with the expectation that societal discrimination often undermines individuals’ self-esteem and psychological well-being, discouraging them from political participation. Immigrants – especially Muslims – are a vulnerable group in society.”

However, Muslims who are second-generation immigrants were found to participate more in demonstrations than first-generation immigrants. 
“One interpretation could be that second-generation immigrants who are discriminated against are more engaged in non-institutional politics and less trusting in institutional politics like voting. It could also be related to the political climate at the moment of the survey, but this needs to be examined further,” says Weiqian Xia. 


How the study was done

The researcher used data from the Swedish Level of Living Survey for the Foreign Born and their Children (LNU-UFB) that covers topics such as socio-economic status, religion, and political and civil society participation as well as the respondents’ experiences of discrimination. The survey contains data from both electoral and non-electoral participation, and immigrants are categorized into different groups. The survey contains data from immigrants who have been living at least 5 years in Sweden and includes data from 2,388 individuals.


More about the study

Read the full thesis here: The Political Sociology of Religion: The Impact of Religion on Political Attitudes and Behaviors in Secularizing European Societies



The article was published 2021-11-12