Foreign-born people under-represented in Swedish politics

Foreign-born people in Sweden face a glass ceiling in local politics and are less likely to reach high-level positions even after decades in the country, new research shows.

Foreign-born people under-represented in Swedish politics
The town hall in Västerås. Photo: Janerik Henriksson/TT

A higher number of Swedes born abroad are choosing to get involved in local politics, but they find it tougher to reach the top than native Swedes, according to the study from the Swedish Institute for Social Research at Stockholm University.

“We had expected representation of foreign-born people to be higher in communities where a higher proportion of the population was foreign-born, but that's not what we found,” Johanna Rickne, a political scientist at Stockholm University, told The Local.

“That shows a problem; there are very very few foreign-born people in the top positions, regardless of how many there are in the community, and they should be represented.”

Rickne added that while it was relatively easy for people with a foreign background to enter politics at a lower level, reaching an elected office with more influence, such as district committee chair or mayor, was much more difficult than for native Swedes.

READ ALSO: Foreign graduates earn less than Swedes: study

The research was based on municipal election data between 1991 and 2014 and was possible because of Sweden's personal number system, which means all residents are given an identity number linked to their region of birth.

There was a notable difference in political opportunities depending on immigrants' home countries. Those originally from the Middle East, Africa, Latin America or Asia were less likely to reach higher levels in Swedish politics than immigrants from the Nordics, the EU, or North America.

This lower level of representation did not appear to be linked to the candidates' age, gender, level of education, or political experience. 

One factor which did have an impact however was the length of time spent in Sweden, with those who had lived in the country for over 20 years more likely to reach a higher level in politics. However, they were still under-represented in high-level positions.

Second-generation immigrants, a term used to refer to those born in Sweden to one or both foreign-born parents, were more easily able to advance in Swedish politics, something Rickne said was “a positive result, showing relatively successful integration”. But Swedes in this group were still less likely to reach the highest level than Swedes from families in which both parents were native Swedes.

Rickne believes Sweden's political parties should be doing more to tackle this, and suggested a review of the networks and other processes within the parties which help people rise through the ranks.

“There are many reasons it's a problem; from the point of view of integration, just as we want people to participate fully in the labour market and develop as much as possible, the same goes for politics. It's also a human right!” she said.

“Solving the issues which Sweden is facing requires people of many different backgrounds who will bring their own experience and offer different solution, and having better representation of the population helps instil confidence in the democratic system,” she explained.

OPINION: 'Getting foreign-born Swedes to vote in 2018 should be a key issue'

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Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

What's Sweden talking about this week? In The Local's Sweden Elects newsletter, editor Emma Löfgren rounds up some of the main talking points ahead of the Swedish election.

Sweden Elects: The latest political news as the election campaign kicks off

In an interview that could have jeopardised his job a decade ago, Social Democrat Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman’s suggestion in DN that there should be a 50 percent cap on non-Nordic immigrants in troubled areas of Swedish cities showed how the debate has shifted in recent years.

That said, his comments did not go without criticism. The Left Party slammed them as “racist”, the Greens and the Centre Party also criticised them, and so did the Moderates and some within the Social Democrats.

Ygeman himself said that he had been misunderstood, that he had never meant it as an actual proposal, and that factors such as crime and unemployment were far more important in terms of integration.

“But of course segregation is not just class-based, it also has an ethnic dimension. If you have areas where almost everyone is from other countries, it’s harder to learn Swedish, and if it’s harder to learn Swedish, it’s harder to get a job,” he told public broadcaster SVT.

What do you think? Email me if you want to share your thoughts.

Campaign posters and a new poll

The centre-left Social Democrats and the Moderates, the largest right-wing opposition party, both unveiled their campaign posters last week, which I guess means that the summer holiday lull is officially over and the election campaign is now definitely under way. Just over a month to go.

It’s interesting that the Social Democrats are clearly trying to turn this into a “presidential” style campaign, taking advantage of Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson’s overwhelming popularity compared to the Moderates’ Ulf Kristersson, whose reception among voters is lukewarm.

A poll by the DN newspaper and Ipsos a month ago suggested that 37 percent of voters want to see Andersson as prime minister, compared to 22 percent who preferred Kristersson (12 percent preferred the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats’ leader Jimmie Åkesson, and the other party leaders did not get more than four percent each).

Andersson is in the unique position where voters like her way more than they like her party – a new opinion poll by Demoskop suggests that 28.7 percent would vote for the Social Democrats if the election was held today (the Moderates would get 20.3 percent). The same poll has all the right-wing parties with a slight majority compared to the left-wing parties.

Anyway, the Social Democrats’ campaign posters cover pensions, schools (specifically, limiting profit-making free schools), crime and law and order. Climate change is conspicuously absent, but a party spokesperson told reporters it will be more prominent in its social media campaigns.

When Kristersson, on the other hand, spoke at his party’s event to kick off their election campaign, he emphasised how he’s got a viable coalition on his side – a jibe at the Social Democrats, who will struggle to get their partners (specifically the Centre and Left parties) to collaborate.

He also reiterated his praise for the Sweden Democrats, and The Local asked several experts if the Moderates are the same party that fought the 2018 election, when Kristersson promised Holocaust survivor Hédi Fried he would not cooperate with the Sweden Democrats after the election.

Election pledges

The Local’s Becky Waterton has looked at the election pledges of Sweden’s four main parties, the Social Democrats, Moderates, Sweden Democrats and Centre Party. Click here to read her guide, it’s a really useful roundup.

And what about Covid? Is Sweden’s handling of the pandemic not going to be a talking point in this election? No, at least not if the parties have their way. The Social Democrats run the government, but most of the regions (who are in charge of healthcare) are run by right-wing coalitions. So from a strictly realpolitik perspective, no party is able to attack another without putting themselves at risk of becoming a target. Best forget about it.

In other political news…

… a Sweden Democrat member of parliament has been accused of sending unsolicited dick pics to women, the Moderates want to legalise altruistic surrogacy in Sweden, the Christian Democrats want a national scheme to improve maternity care, the Liberals want to make it harder for people with a criminal record to become Swedish citizens, and Centre Party leader Annie Lööf hit the campaign trail just before the weekend by pledging to reject any proposal for raised taxes after the election.

Sweden Elects is a weekly column by Editor Emma Löfgren looking at the big talking points and issues in the Swedish election race. Members of The Local Sweden can sign up to receive the column plus several extra features as a newsletter in their email inbox each week. Just click on this “newsletters” option or visit the menu bar.