chapter  4
19 Pages

New citizens – new candidates? Candidate selection and the mobilization of immigrant voters in German elections

Introduction Political parties mobilize voters by making promises of parliamentary interest representation. They do this along the cleavages that divide the electorate, such as class, religion, gender, race or ethnicity. In a broad sense, ethnicity refers to cultural differences between minority groups and the mainstream society; it may cut across or reinforce the other cleavages. In the case of the US, it has been widely demonstrated that ethnicity has a consistent impact on immigrant political behaviour (see e.g. DeSipio 2001). What is more, party competition and mobilization strategies have been shown to impact on the process of immigrant constituency formation (Basler 2008; Pantoja et al. 2001). Yet, the electoral relationship between political parties and immigrants in West European societies remains largely unexplored. The debate has been dominated by the challenge that the extreme Right poses to mass parties (Kitschelt 1997; Kriesi et al. 2006; van der Brug and van Spanje 2009), with little attention being paid to the tradeoff between the electoral mobilization of native and of immigrant constituencies (as an exception see Saggar 2000). This is surprising, as parties can both prevent the defection of native voters to extreme Right competitors and build electoral ties to immigrant voters by addressing the ethnic cleavage. Particularly in countries with a sizeable, enfranchised immigrant population and a citizenship tradition based on ethnicity, the electoral mobilization of immigrants poses a challenge to traditional mass and catch-all parties. While immigrant support may help to win elections, it may also result in the loss of native support – a fundamental strategic dilemma the parties have to solve. This chapter examines the mobilization of immigrant voters in elections to the German national Parliament (Bundestag) through the nomination of candidates with an immigrant background. More specifically, it seeks to understand how the liberalization of the German citizenship regime in 1999 has impacted on the electoral relationship between political parties and immigrants. The analysis is based on the theoretical assumptions that parties are rational actors led by a vote-maximizing interest and that party strategies are constrained by political opportunity structures. The first assumption does not deny the effect of officeand policy-seeking intentions on party behaviour, but the absence of parties

catering to minority groups indicates that catch-all competition is the prevalent logic in German elections (Strøm 1990). This means that all mainstream parties1 will compete for the immigrant vote if they have reasons to expect an advantageous outcome. The second assumption emphasizes the exogenous (institutional and political-contextual) factors conditioning party behaviour, while fully recognizing the importance of endogenous (ideological and organizational) factors (see Chapter 1, this volume, Figure 1.1). This means that, in German elections, all mainstream parties compete for the immigrant vote under similar conditions but translate these into different mobilization strategies, including the nomination of candidates with an immigrant background. Based on these assumptions, this chapter argues that the German citizenship reform of 1999 opened up a window of opportunity for immigrant electoral mobilization that gave way to a new dynamic of party competition over ethnicity. Before the reform, the parties had few incentives to battle for the electoral support of immigrants, as naturalization provisions were restrictive and the enfranchised immigrant population small. They expected to attract immigrant constituencies by ideological default, i.e. without openly addressing them and thereby risking the loss of native support. Since the reform, the immigrant electorate has grown steadily and its vote has become increasingly vital for the parties. But immigrant electoral mobilization can still have costs that enhanced benefits may not fully compensate for. This is connected with the structure of ideological competition in the German party system and the possible stability of the ethnic cleavage in the face of institutional change. As a result, mobilization strategies vary between the parties (Left and Right, major and small) as well as within each of the parties, according to their perception of political opportunity at different levels of the electoral system (district or list race) and in different regional contexts (eastern or western state, urban or rural area). The indicator chosen for analysing the mobilization of immigrant voters in German national elections is the nomination of candidates with an immigrant background. This chapter tests the following effects of the 1999 citizenship reform:

Null hypothesis (H1): The reform has no significant effect on immigrant electoral mobilization. The nomination of immigrant candidates varies between and within the parties, but the differences remain constant over time.