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Little is known about the political representation and career deficits of individuals of immigrant origin in most European countries, particularly of those born in the country. And which factors are particularly conducive to representation success is also only partially known. This project aims to fill this gap using a methodological adapted approach on the presence of immigrant-origin minorities in federal, cantonal and local parliaments and governments of Switzerland, being part of a larger European consortium funded by the Robert Bosch Foundation, whereas the Swiss project is funded by the Swiss Mercator Foundation. The project addresses two key research questions: What are the conditions for success in political careers and which factors promote sustainable political representation (and which do not), giving a particular attention to targeted measures and support programs at different institutional levels. In addition to politicians, successful persons belonging to minorities in other areas of society (civil society organizations, business, administration) are to be interviewed in order to understand the conditions of such a societal advancement.

  • What is the research objective of REPCHANCE?

    The research question of REPCHANCE focuses on the conditions for success in political careers of persons with a (visible or non-visible) migration background and the intention to understand which factors promote sustainable political representation (and which do not), with special consideration of targeted measures and support programs done in different spheres of societies, e.g. by the administration, the economy or by civil society.

    Theoretically, to understand opportunities, constraints and channels by which immigrant-citizen run for and win office, we refer to the standard theoretical literature on the determinants of immigrant political representation by drawing on the comprehensive model elaborated by Bird, Saalfeld and Wüst (2011). We will make use of their comprehensive framework that will serve as a reference for this study. Firmly rooted in the political opportunity structure approach developed in the social movement literature (Kitschelt 1986; Kriesi et al. 1995; McAdam 1996; Tarrow 1998), their model classifies the determinants of the political representation of immigrant minorities in four main interacting factors: citizenship regimes; interest constellations; institutional features and finally; strategic calculus of minority candidates.

    In view of these theoretical constellation, the submitted project wants to empirically clarify the distribution of immigrant political representation in different parts of Switzerland, at cantonal and federal level, in legislative as much as executive functions. By systematically collecting institutional and individual level data, an empirical overview on the influence of institutional settings as well as individual level factors will be analysed. Moreover, for the first time interviews with elected officials and office holders will be used to systematically determine which framework conditions, based on political and personal experience, enable the socio-political representation of underrepresented minorities and which instruments (especially measures and regulations) could not only support this, but have demonstrably already done so. The areas to be considered include political bodies as well as careers in civil society organizations, administration and thematically related business.


  • What methodological procedure is chosen?

    We will select four Cantons situated on all sides of the linguistic border. We have already driven a SNSF research on political active migrant citizens on the left and right in French and German regions. In order to calibrate more this study, we will run the qualitative research in the Canton of Vaud, Basel-Stadt, Grisons and Zurich. Basel-Stadt is an urban canton with a liberal philanthropic tradition, although – and against a common assumption – traditionally the access to citizenship is not more facilitated than in other German speaking cantons (Achermann and Gass 2004, Probst et al. 2019). Zurich and Vaud have a varied political landscape, with large urban centers (Lausanne, Zurich) and a multitude of mid-sized or little municipalities. The fourth and last canton will be Grisons in the East. This mountainous canton is an interesting outlier, it has thee linguistic areas (German, Italian, Romansch), a strong touristic industry with a large immigrant presence, and above all, it concedes in different municipalities and districts active political rights to non-Swiss inhabitants.

    In a mix of quantitative and qualitative methods, we systematically analyze publicly available data on politicians of immigrant-origin and of non-national minorities at the federal and cantonal (for the four cantons selected, see above). In concrete, we identify mandate holders and office holders with a migration background and those who belong to a visible minority (via external characteristics or a non-traditional German, French or Italian name, respectively). By conducting a detailed research on publicly available data, we will collect data about the number of politicians of immigrant origin in the national and cantonal assemblies as well as in government. In addition, we will collect information, if available, about the mandate and office holders’ socio-demographics (age, (parents’) country of origin, occupational background, …) as well as concerning their political career (e.g., number of terms in parliament/government). This will be done for the legislatures and governments at all levels under scrutiny and for the years 2012 to 2022. An important goal is also to harmonize the Swiss data with the German data (of the Munich team).

    In a second step, we will assess qualitative data through the implementation of interviews. And interviews will not only be conducted with stratified samples of the respective politicians on the two levels. The career paths of these MP or member of executives will be identified: How did they get into offices and mandates, and what factors were decisive for this and for leaving the respective office or mandate? In doing so, it will be possible to draw on a number of earlier analyses, whose findings, however, will be systematically reviewed for the first time.

    In a third step, the project will no longer focus on the members of parliament and elected executive officials themselves, but sharing the experiences of privileged observers in parties, the administration, economy and civil society. For the first time, these interviews with elected representatives and office holders as much as external experts will systematically determine which framework conditions from political and personal experience enable the socio-political representation of underrepresented minorities and which instruments (above all measures and regulations) could not only support this evolution in the future, but have demonstrably already done so. Therefore, the areas to be considered include political bodies as well as careers in civil society organizations, business enterprises and administration.


Former Team Members

Dina Bader, project manager and researcher

Silja Gerhard, researcher

Leonie Mugglin, researcher

Barbara Schmoutz, research assistant