Electoral Participation as a Measure of Social Inclusion for Natives, Immigrants and Descendants in Sweden
Three decades ago, Sweden extended municipal and county voting privileges to non-citizen residents arguing that it would increase political influence, interest and self-esteem among foreign citizens. Three decades later, electoral participation on the part of immigrants is perceived as being substantially lower than for native born citizens and questions have arisen regarding the degree to which this may be symptomatic of a larger integration issue. The aim of this paper is to explore the determinants of voting within the context of social inclusion by comparing immigrants, their descendants and native citizens in Sweden while controlling for a range of socio-economic, demographic characteristics and contextual factors. We use two unique sets of data to conduct our research. The 2006 Electoral Participation Survey contains information on individual electoral participation in national, county and municipal elections. We match this information to registry data from Statistics Sweden which contains socio-demographic information for every Swedish resident. From these two sources, we are able to create a database which matches voting behaviour to individual characteristics for more than 70,000 residents of whom almost 13,000 are not citizens. We find that after controlling for demographic, socio-economic and contextual characteristics, acquisition of citizenship makes a real difference to the odds of voting and is therefore, a likely and powerful indicator of social inclusion. Immigrants who obtain citizenship are far more likely to vote than those who do not. Arguably, some of this may be attributed to the number of years of residency in the country. However, even non-citizens born in Sweden have substantially lower odds of voting. Country of birth also makes a difference. Immigrants from the Americas and those born in Sweden with immigrant parents are more likely to vote than immigrants from other countries. Somewhat surprisingly, age at immigration does not make a substantial difference to the odds of voting.
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