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Diverse or not diverse? The perception of underrepresentation of migrants and its effects on attitudes in the German population

Democracy
Elites
Integration
Migration
Representation
Quantitative
Survey Research
Fabio Best
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Sabrina Zajak
German Institute for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM)
Sabrina Zajak
German Institute for Integration and Migration Research (DeZIM)
Kathleen Heft
Deutsches Zentrum für Integrations- und Migrationsforschung (DeZIM) e.V.
Fabio Best
Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz

Abstract

Not all social groups and social positions are represented in key decision-making positions in German society. The elite club continues to be a predominantly white, male, and non-migrant circle – with differences across sectors. Although between one quarter and one-fifth of the German population share (direct or indirect) migration experiences, they only make up to five percent of the German elite (Vogel and Zajak 2019). But how is the underrepresentation of migrants perceived and evaluated in the general population? And what effects does the underrepresentation have on the specific group, people with migration backgrounds? We use data from a quantitative population survey (N=388) to measure the perception of the lack of descriptive representation of migrants in elite positions and to investigate the implications of underrepresentation on attitudes of the underrepresented group on democracy. Following insights from previous studies, we expect that social groups which feel underrepresented in key decision-making positions are also less satisfied with democracy, the integration process, and societal institutions in general. We show that most citizens (correctly) perceive the underrepresentation of migrants in elite positions and see that as problematic. But contrary to our expectations, we find that although migrants are underrepresented, there is no general effect of having a migrant background on attitudes on democracy. In specific, we neither observe a reduction in satisfaction with democracy and the integration process, nor in the trust in institutions for individuals with a migrant background. However, taking a closer look at the category “people with a migration background”, we do find differences between first- and second-generation migrants: Individuals who migrated to Germany themselves (first generation), overall show higher levels of satisfaction with democracy, the integration process, and trust in institutions. Interestingly, the democratic attitudes of those individuals whose parents migrated to Germany (second generation), do not significantly differ from Germans without migration experiences and show less satisfaction with democracy. This indicates that while underrepresentation of social groups is considered a general problem for a democratic society (by the population and by people with a migration background), it does not necessarily affect the democratic attitudes of those being underrepresented (especially first-generation migrants). This might suggest that it takes time to feel entitled to be represented. Persons that have experienced migration might do not even expect to be represented in elite positions - in contrast to their descendants.