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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Political Ethnic Stereotypes and the Underrepresentation of Ethnic Minority Men: An Experimental Survey

Survey Experiments
Sigrid Van Trappen
Ghent University
Sigrid Van Trappen
Ghent University

Ethnic minorities are largely underrepresented in political legislatures worldwide. This democratic deficit is important on several accounts. A more profound presence of ethnic minority representatives would enhance the substantive representation of their in-groups’ interests, their political integration and the legitimacy of democratic institutions.
The underrepresentation of ethnic minorities is however not constant but changes over time and within groups. The intersectionality perspective reveals that ethnic minority men are outnumbered by ethnic minority women in many contemporary Western-European democracies, both on the ballot lists and in parliaments. That ethnic minority men fare worse on ballot lists is often explained by the electoral threat they pose to white male incumbents and the stronger association with negative consequences of immigration (e.g., terrorism) in both party selectors’ and voters’ minds.
Party selectors (PS) form crucial actors in the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities, as they decide which candidates will appear on the ballot list and thereby indirectly determine the diversity within parliament and government. Many scholars emphasize that in order to understand the underrepresentation of ethnic minorities, one should not look at institutional systems or electoral discrimination, but at PS’ attitudes and behaviour toward ethnic minority aspirants. These are perceived as the breeding ground of discriminatory practices excluding ethnic minorities from ballot lists. However, concrete empirical evidence about PS’ attitudes towards ethnic minority aspirants remains scarce. The portrayal of candidate selection as the ‘secret garden of politics’ thus seems to hold for discriminatory practices related to (male) ethnic minority aspirants.
We will conduct one of the first attempts to fill this gap by setting up a survey experiment among Flemish local party chairs (LPC) as they are the most dominant actors in the local selection process. The experiment should provide an answer to whether Flemish LPC use political ethnic stereotypes (PES) when evaluating ethnic minority aspirants (1), which LPC are more prone to use PES (2) and whether information about aspirants’ socioeconomic status can counter or reinforce PES (3).
During the survey experiment, LPC are confronted with two hypothetical aspirants, who are randomly assigned a Flemish or Moroccan name and a high or low socioeconomic status. The gender of the aspirants is held constant (males) as for the reasons stated above, we expect political ethnic stereotypes to particularly pose a problem for ethnic minority men. In order for the LPC to be able to evaluate the aspirants, information about their personal background (e.g., family background) and policy positions is provided. The LPC are asked to evaluate the aspirants in terms of ideological position, competency and integrity.
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