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Agents of Diversity or Reputational Shields? How Western European Political Parties Respond to the Immigration Mood

Political Competition
Representation
Immigration
Marc van de Wardt
Université Libre de Bruxelles
Patrick English
Institute for Social Research, Oslo
Maria Sobolewska
University of Manchester
Marc van de Wardt
Université Libre de Bruxelles

Abstract

This paper examines how European political parties have responded to shifts in the public mood on immigration over the last two decades. Most research theorizes that if the median voter favors more restrictive immigration policies, parties will respond by moving to a more restrictive stance on immigration. This paper attempts to develop and test a mechanism by which this often proposed framework can sit alongside research that also shows most European democracies saw in the same period- an increased numbers of elected politicians of immigrant backgrounds. We hypothesize this is because parties can use a strategy of combining platform change and shifts in their number of immigrant origin (IO) MPs. First, we formulate hypotheses on how parties have adjusted their immigration platform in response to negative mood shifts. Then, we hypothesize that both parties that switch to the left and right will increase their number of IO MPs. We argue that parties that shifted to the left (hence, in the opposed direction to the mood) are determined to show their commitment to diversity to their core voters. In turn, parties shifting to the right (hence, along with the median voter) increase their number of IO representatives to fend off criticism of intolerance and racism. Here IO MPs are used as reputational shields. We test these hypotheses on the new PATHWAYS database. Our analyses span 8 countries and 47 legislative periods between 1990 and 2015. Our results have important implications for the literature on descriptive representation and party platform change.