Political Behavior

, Volume 41, Issue 1, pp 105–134 | Cite as

Electoral Discrimination Against Immigrant-Origin Candidates

  • Lea PortmannEmail author
  • Nenad Stojanović
Original Paper


This article explores the Electoral Discrimination thesis, according to which voters tend to discriminate against minority candidates. The free-list PR system used in Swiss elections—which allows voters to cast negative preference votes against candidates they do not want to support—offers a unique opportunity to test this thesis. Specifically, we analyze the relationship between immigrant-origin candidates bearing non-Swiss names and the negative preference votes allocated by voters to single candidates. Using a novel research strategy, based on election data stemming from our analysis of real ballots cast in the 2014 local elections in the Canton of Zurich, the article shows that candidates with non-Swiss names incur a significant electoral penalty. The effects of Electoral Discrimination are stronger, however, among supporters of parties from the Right and Center-Right. Interestingly, candidates bearing non-Swiss but Western names do not fare better than candidates with names of non-Western origin. We argue that our results have important implications for the comparative literature interested in electoral systems and minority representation.


Electoral systems Electoral behavior Minority representation Immigrant-origin minorities Discrimination 



We thank Daniel Diaz and Corine Truxius for their assistance in coding, and Luca Gambazzi for his support with data processing. We are grateful to Edith Wiederkehr and Beat Lutta from the Zurich cantonal statistical office for kindly providing us access to the electoral software. Earlier versions of this article were presented at the MPSA 2016 Annual Conference in Chicago, the ECPR 2016 Joint Sessions in Pisa, the IPSA 2016 World Congress of Political Science in Poznan, and at seminars held in November 2016 at the University of Lucerne and the University of Neuchâtel. We thank the participants at these events for their feedback. We also thank Andrea de Angelis, Marc Bühlmann, Lucas Leemann, Didier Ruedin, Andreas Schädel and Oliver Strijbis for their very helpful written comments. Last but not least, we gratefully acknowledge Peter Cook’s excellent assistance in editing the text and the financial support of the Swiss National Science Foundation (Grant Number PZ00P1_154983).


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceUniversity of LucerneLucerneSwitzerland

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