Candidates vie for immigrant vote in election | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 09.05.2012
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Candidates vie for immigrant vote in election

Ahead of balloting in Germany's most populous state, candidates are trying to reach out to the many residents of migrant background. With 2 million such people eligible to vote, they could tip the scales.

Voters go to the polls Sunday to elect a new state government in Germany's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW).

The state's previous minority government of Social Democrats (SPD ) and Greens collapsed in March after failing to win parliamentary backing for its 2012 budget. That made a snap election necessary. By the time polls close Sunday evening, the migrant-background vote could prove to be the decisive factor.

North Rhine-Westphalia has about 4 million inhabitants with a migrant background. More than 2 million of them are eligible to vote, making up 15 percent of the state's electorate.

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German state sets national trends

Opinion polls have indicated that Turkish migrants in NRW clearly favor the Social Democrats. A 2010 survey by the Center for Turkish Studies and Integration Research (known by the German acronym ZfTI) at Duisburg-Essen University showed 37 percent of migrants with Turkish roots would vote for the SPD, 20 percent for the environmental Green Party, and a mere 4 percent for Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU). The study also showed less than one percent of the same group favoring the liberal Free Democrats (FDP), the junior partner in Merkel's government.

Tayfun Keltek, head of NRW's integration council, told DW that this preference for the SPD and Greens makes sense.

"These two parties integrated many of the demands people with Turkish roots have into their party programs," he said. "They stand up for Turkish interests."

The SPD and the Green Party both advocate dual citizenship for Turks and the right to vote in local polls. They also take a more favorable stance onTurkish membership in the European Union than the CDU or FDP, who, according to Keltek, "are fighting against Turkish accession."

Different kinds of migrants

Researchers have closely followed Turkish migrants' political party preferences for about 10 years. In NRW, researchers have noted a stable trend in favor of the SPD and the Green Party.

The SPD has received 40 to 50 percent approval ratings from Turkish migrants, while the Green Party's rating has ranged between 1 and 20 percent. Meanwhile, the Left Party has reached a level of 8 percent approval with the same group.

Current NRW premier Hannelore Kraft (SPD) and challenger Norbert Röttgen (CDU)

Current NRW premier Hannelore Kraft (SPD) and challenger Norbert Röttgen (CDU)

Ethnic Germans whose families lived in eastern and southeastern Europe for generations, but who have moved to Germany, show different voting trends. They tend to favor the country's conservative parties. Members of this group receive full civil and voting rights upon settling in Germany.

They make for a stark contrast with Turkish-background residents, who often feel left out of German society. Keltek said German politicians have been particularly negligent on this front. He added that might be why one in five Turkish-background residents eligible to vote will not bother going to the polls.

"Many migrants with Turkish roots don't vote because they can't identify with the candidates," he said.

Tayfun Keltek on a poster

Keltek says Turks can't identify with mainstream candidates

While polls show strong party preferences among Germany's residents with a Turkish background, surveys cannot necessarily prophesy how they will vote come election day.

When surveys take place well ahead of a ballot, voters' responses tend to be non-committal. 2010 was the last time experts inquired about political party preferences in NRW. At the time, no one expected a snap election to come just two years later. Thus, it remains to be seen just how migrants' preferences will influence the outcome of Sunday's ballot.

Author: Matthias von Hellfeld / dba
Editor: Shant Shahrigian

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