Beyond the Obvious: A Nordic Tale of the Raveled Relationship Between Political Inequality and Indigenous People’s Satisfaction with Democracy

About this Session


Wed. 10.04. 17:45



Author – Fabian Bergmann.

Abstract :

One of democracy’s defining features is political power emanating from the people. Yet, many democracies are home to more than one people, namely an ethnic majority and one or several Indigenous peoples. Most often, political power is distributed unequally between these groups and stacked against the latter – with potential negative ramifications for their regime support. Can increasing political equality thus help to raise Indigenous peoples’ satisfaction with democracy? This is an essential question because lack of regime support among a significant part of the citizenship can seriously harm regime stability and democratic consolidation.

Indeed, available empirical evidence from this little-researched area suggests that Indigenous peoples are more satisfied with how democracy works in countries where their political integration is more substantial and where the recognition of their collective rights is more advanced. Yet despite the intuitive plausibility of these findings, the underlying mechanisms that make Indigeneity – or ethnicity in general – relevant for satisfaction with democracy are hardly discussed in these studies.

In my paper, I point out why a positive relationship with political equality should not be considered a hard-and-fast rule. Resorting to conceptual research on satisfaction with democracy and ethnic politics theory, I argue that the political salience of ethnicity instead conditions the association. To be a decisive factor in shaping satisfaction, issues like political inclusion and the recognition of group rights need to feature in ethnic minorities’ conceptions of democracy.

I test these claims in the case of Norway and Sweden. Both countries are home to Europe’s only Indigenous people – the Sámi – but pursue substantially different Indigenous policies. As a result, in Sweden, political inequality between the Sámi and the ethnic majority is higher. According to the conventional view, we should thus expect the gap in satisfaction with democracy between the Sámi and the ethnic majority in Sweden to be larger than in Norway.

Yet, crucially, Sámi issues are also less politically salient in Sweden. Using novel original survey data, I find that – in accordance with my theoretical argumentation – Sámi ethnicity is indeed not significantly associated with satisfaction with democracy in Sweden. In Norway, by contrast, Sámi respondents are significantly less satisfied than their ethnic majority compatriots. In addition, evaluations of Sámi’s political influence are a strong predictor of Norwegian Sámi’s satisfaction levels, whereas they do not play any role in how satisfied Swedish Sámi are with the way democracy works.