Politics Feeds Back: The Minority/Majority Turnout Gap and Citizenship in Anti-Immigrant Times

Politics Feeds Back: The Minority/Majority Turnout Gap and Citizenship in Anti-Immigrant Times

ByKristina Bakkær Simonsen, Aarhus University

Voting is a democratic virtue and an important mechanism for citizens to let their voices be heard. However, citizens do not participate in politics at equal levels, with consequences for their political power. While turnout gaps between different socioeconomic groups are well researched, the biggest gap in many Western European countries today has been overlooked: that between the children of immigrants (minority youths) and the majority population. I argue that existing theories fall short in addressing this gap because they do not attend to the distinctly political forces that shape citizens’ relationships to politics. Building on the policy-feedback literature, and analyzing seventy-one in-depth interviews with minority and majority youths in Denmark, I show that because these groups are targeted very differently in policy and political discourse, they have substantially different conceptions of politics and their status as citizens. Many minority youths react to anti-immigrant political messages by dissociating from politics, but I warn against interpreting their quiescence as political apathy. Instead, dissociating from politics can be a strategy to reclaim power over their self-understanding and can be experienced as empowering. These findings challenge classic conceptualizations of political engagement and open discussion about how to understand political behavior in increasingly diverse societies.

 

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