Overcoming the Political Exclusion of Migrants: Theory and Experimental Evidence from India

Overcoming the Political Exclusion of Migrants: Theory and Experimental Evidence from India

By Nikhar Gaikwad, Columbia University and Gareth Nellis, University of California, San Diego

Migrants are politically marginalized in cities of the developing world, participating in destination-area elections less than do local-born residents. We theorize three reasons for this shortfall: migrants’ socioeconomic links to origin regions, bureaucratic obstacles to enrollment that disproportionately burden newcomers, and ostracism by antimigrant politicians. We randomized a door-to-door drive to facilitate voter registration among internal migrants to two Indian cities. Ties to origin regions do not predict willingness to become registered locally. Meanwhile, assistance in navigating the electoral bureaucracy increased migrant registration rates by 24 percentage points and substantially boosted next-election turnout. An additional treatment arm informed politicians about the drive in a subset of localities; rather than ignoring new migrant voters, elites amplified campaign efforts in response. We conclude that onerous registration requirements impede the political incorporation, and thus the well-being, of migrant communities in fast-urbanizing settings. The findings also matter for assimilating naturalized yet politically excluded cross-border immigrants.