When the voice exits: How domestic migration furthers inequality in political representation

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Wed. 10.04.'24 16:45



Abstract :

Millions of voters move within their country of residence every year, but the consequences of this domestic migration for electoral politics have received only scant scholarly attention thus far. This paper fills this gap by linking domestic migration to inequality in political representation. I propose that domestic migration draws the attention of national political parties to places experiencing a lot of domestic in-migration because domestic migrants (“movers”) tend to be more active and invested in national politics than non-migrants (“stayers”). These differences between movers and stayers are rooted in differences in education, economic position, and local attachments. Over time, then, domestic migration alters the composition of local electorates, concentrating voters invested in national politics in in-migration areas. I argue that this spatial sorting of voters influences party strategies. Focusing on contemporary Germany, where proportional representation means that parties need to maximize votes but care less about where they obtain these votes, I propose that mainstream parties are drawn to in-migration areas, where it is easier to mobilize voters. I first utilize a large household panel data to describe the political differences between movers and stayers. I then demonstrate that turnout in federal elections increases with domestic in-migration. In a third step, I use new data on political campaigning in the 2017 and 2021 German federal elections as well as biographical information on members of parliament to show that Germany’s mainstream parties are more likely to target in-migration areas: they are more likely to campaign and recruit political candidates in these areas, while elected representatives themselves are also highly mobile. The paper’s findings raise important questions about the political consequences of post-industrialization and skill-biased labor mobility, furthers our understanding of political inequality, and offers a new explanation for the rise of populism.