Immigrant groups in Norway: Origins and representation

I'm going to talk about political rep¬resentation of immigrants in Norway, that is, about people with immigrant backgrounds who become political representatives. It is a topic that I have done some research on, and also one that increasingly becomes a relevant and important part of political science research in European countries. One of the rea¬sons why this is an interesting topic for political scientists is that it taps into a very old debate about political representation and democracy, and that is: how and to what extent should minority point of views be reflected in political institutions and in political decisions?

When looking at immi¬grants as political representatives in Norway, there is no point in study¬ing the national political level, i.e. parliament, because there are hardly any representatives with immigrant background there. There was one representative in the previous session of parliament, from the conservative party, and there is five now (2016), in the current session of parliament. If you, on the other hand, study the local, municipal level of government, there is more variation, and more representatives to look at. According to our data, there were 112 non-western immigrants elected to municipal councils in the elec¬tion in 2003, which is about 1 per¬cent of all elected representatives. Still, there is large variation between municipalities, with the city council of Oslo having the largest percentage of immigrant representatives.

Another reason to study local politics is that according to Norwegian law, you don't have to be a citizen to vote in local elections. Any immigrant, above the voting age, who has resided in Norway for at least three years, can vote in local elections. That means there are more immigrants taking part in local elec¬tions, than there are in national par¬liamentary elections. Finally, the Norwegian electoral system for local elections has some unique features that in some cases have large effects on the electability of immigrant candidates. I will come back to that later.

First, let me start by looking at a lit¬tle bit of context. Some of you prob¬ably know more about the Norwegian immigrant population than I do. But for those of you who don't, you need to know a little bit about who these people are, how long they have stayed in Norway, and what countries they come from.
Political representation is really about some people representing, i.e. stand¬ing in for others, in political institu¬tions of power. Thus, you need to know something about the size and composition of this group to get a perspective on the extent to which they are represented in political institutions.

Let me start by defining who I am talking about. When I say "immigrant", I actually mean immi¬grants from non-western countries, that is, immigrants from Latin-America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. There were 285 000 non-western legal immigrants in Norway as of January 2006, which amounts to 6.1 percent of the population. In 2016, there is close to 450 000. In the local election of 2003, non-west¬ern immigrants constituted 3.6 per¬cent of the electorate. Whichever of these numbers you compare to the one percent of municipal council representatives in Norway, you have to conclude that immigrants are underrepresented. Some would argue that that does not matter as long as other politicians look after the inter¬ests of immigrants. I'm not going to take up that debate here; I'm just going to look at the numbers.

What's striking about the immigrant population in Norway is that they are clustered in certain areas of the country. Oslo has by far the largest immigrant population of about 30 percent of the population. Some of the municipali¬ties and towns in the vicinity of Oslo also have sizable immigrant populations, most notably the town of Drammen, and the municipality of Lørenskog, which is really a kind of suburb to Oslo. All in all, a majority of immigrants in Norway reside in the areas around the Oslo-fjord, but there are sizeable populations in some of the other larger towns as well, such as Kristiansand, Stavanger, Bergen and Trondheim.
Immigrants in Norway, as I have defined them, come from all over the non-western world, but there is a handful of countries that provide the bulk of this population.

The most common country of origin is Pakistan, followed by Iraq, Vietnam, Somalia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Turkey. The Pakistanis are also a unique group in terms of their length of residence in Norway, and in terms of the percent-age of second-generation immi¬grants. In sum, the Pakistanis are the largest group, who has stayed the longest, thus making their share of second generation immigrants, i.e. of people born in Norway, the largest. The Vietnamese, and to a lesser extent the Turks, follow the Pakistanis pretty closely in terms of length of residence and share of sec¬ond generation immigrants. The other immigrant groups have a more recent and shorter history in Norway.

The first step for any minority or group that wants to gain political representation is to take part in the political process at a lower level, i.e. to vote in elections. We have some data on the electoral participation of immigrants, but the data is less than perfect when it comes to distinguish¬ing between groups of immigrants.Though there are some minor changes over time, the overall impression is of a huge gap between the electorate as a whole and immi¬grant voters. Immigrants and non¬western foreign nationals have a sub¬stantially lower rate of electoral par¬ticipation than do the rest of the Norwegian population, and that dif-ference has remained throughout the period studied. It seems reasonable to con-clude that immigrants have a lower rate of engagement in Norwegian politics.

Electoral participation in national elections is always higher than in local elections, both among the elec¬torate as a whole, and among immi¬grants. Still, non-western immigrants take part in national elections to a much lower extent than other voters. When looking at individual groups of immigrants, there is one group that stands out, and that is the Pakistanis. They have a higher rate of electoral participation than the aver¬age among non-western immigrants. The Vietnamese had one of the low¬est levels in the studies, around 42 percent, along with the Iraqis and people from Bosnia-Herzegovina at an even lower level.Finally, before I get to the political representation of immigrants, I thought I'd take a brief look at the political affiliations of immigrants. What parties do the immigrants vote for? Clearly you would expect there to be a correlation between what par¬ties are popular among immigrant groups, and what parties end up hav¬ing immigrants as their elected representatives.

The data has a clear and unmis¬takable pattern. The data for all Norwegian voters show a fairly even distribution between left and right, and the par-ties in the center getting somewhat less support. Non-western foreign nationals show an astounding degree of support for leftwing parties, in the 1999 Election of 79 percent. You would be hard pressed to find any other group in Norwegian society with such a uni¬form and distinct voting pattern. The pattern of leftwing support repeats itself consistently when look¬ing at individual groups of immi¬grants. The only other party that gains any kind of noticeable support from non-western foreign nationals is the Conservative party. The center-parties and the Progress Party get close to no support at all. The Progress Party is, as most of you know, sort of an anti-immigrant party, so the lack of support for that party is not very surprising.

Now, let's move on to political repre¬sentation. I'm going to try to address the extent to which immigrants become political representatives, who these representatives are, and how they got to be elected. As I've said, there are so few representatives in Parliament with immigrant back¬grounds, that there is really not much variation to look at. On the local level, on the other hand, there are some interesting cases of immi¬grants becoming representatives.
Again, we don't have perfect data on this. However, in the local elec¬tion of 2003 there were 791 candidates with immigrant backgrounds for seats on municipal councils in that election, which is 1.2 percent of all candidates. The immigrant candidates were elected at a slightly lower rate than ethnic Norwegian candi¬dates, and 112 of the immigrants ended up with actual seats in municipal councils.

There is huge variation between municipalities in terms of immigrant representation. The vast majority of Norwegian municipali¬ties have no immigrant representa¬tives, while Oslo has about 20 per¬cent. This variation is, not surpris¬ingly, closely related to the size of the immigrant population.

There is no doubt that as the share of immigrants goes up, so does the percentage of immigrant representatives and candidates. Furthermore, in the data, the percentage of candidates is lower in certain area whereas in others they get elected at a higher rate. That brings us to what I believe is an effect of the Norwegian electoral system for local elections. This system is based on the principle of proportional representa¬tion, which means that parties pres¬ent lists of candidates to voters, and voters choose whatever party list they prefer. But in addition to that, Norwegian voters can, if they want, vote for any number of individual candidates. This system of personal votes sometimes has huge effects on the makeup of a municipal council. In some cases a small group of vot¬ers, acting in a coordinated manner, can elect almost any candidate to a council. That means that if, for instance, Pakistani voters consistently support Pakistani candidates for office, they are likely to succeed in electing these candidates, even if Pakistani voters are a fairly small minority in the municipality. All evi¬dence suggests that that has hap¬pened in three municipalities with the larges immigrant populations in Norway, namely Oslo, Drammen, and Lørenskog.

Drammen has a sizeable community of Turkish immigrants. In the 2003 election, three Turkish candidates were elected to the municipal council because of person¬al votes. The same happened for a group of Pakistani candidates in the municipality of Lørenskog, to the east of Oslo. This phenomenon is most clearly evident though, and has been for some time, in Oslo. Our data shows that from 1983 through 2003. a large share, and a majority overall of these candidates were elected through personal votes. Up until 1999 all of these representatives, with no more than one exception in each election were of Pakistani ori¬gin. That changed in 2003, which was an election that led to a record number of immigrant representa¬tives, a majority of which did not have a Pakistani immigrant back¬ground. It looks like other groups started using the same techniques for electing their candidates to the coun¬cil. Let me add that these coordinat¬ed voter campaigns are of course completely legal and they are a legiti¬mate part of Norwegian local politics.

As we have seen, some groups of immigrants tend to dominate the statistics on political representation. Others are notably absent. There is of course a correlation between the size of the group and their political representation. Still, there is one group that you would expect to have at least some representatives in municipal councils, from which there isn't a single representative, and that is the Vietnamese. The Vietnamese is one of the largest immigrant groups in Norway, they have one of the longest average lengths of residence, and they have a large share of second generation immigrants.

All of these factors seem to have a positive effect on the repre¬sentation of Pakistani immigrants, but not so with the Vietnamese. This is an interesting paradox, which is worthy of further research. Probably, one of the reasons for this difference lies in the nature of the Pakistani community on Norway. A majority of the Pakistani immigrants in this country have their roots in the same village in Pakistan. In Oslo, at least, there appears to be close interaction between immigrants of Pakistani ori¬gin, there is a lot of organizational and religious activity in this commu¬nity.

In sum, Pakistanis, especially those living in Oslo, appear to have more "social capital", than other immigrant groups. We also know that organizational activities and social capital foster political partici¬pation in all groups, including among ethnic Norwegians. So, if you are looking for explanations for political representation or lack there¬of among immigrants, probably you'll find that those explanations are not that different from the rea¬sons why some ethnic Norwegians are represented, and some are not.

- Johannes Bergh