Voter turnout increases in Denmark’s underprivileged areas, bucking national trend

Voter turnout in underprivileged areas in Denmark was significantly higher at this week’s general election than in 2015, in contrast to a slightly reduced participation nationally.

Voter turnout increases in Denmark's underprivileged areas, bucking national trend
Photo: Liselotte Sabroe / Ritzau Scanpix

Minority ethnic Danes usually vote in lower numbers than other demographics, but the 2019 general election showed a reduction to that trend, DR reports.

In 2015, turnout amongst immigrants and subsequent generation minorities was 20 percent lower than that for ethnic Danes, the broadcaster writes.

But polling stations in socially marginalized areas with high minority populations were a lot busier at this week’s general election, with voting percentages well up.

Turnout in areas termed ‘ghettos’ by the government was high for these locations.

“These are areas in which there are many non-ethnic Danes, so this must mean that many of these people have become engaged in the election and gone out to cast their ballots,” elections researcher Kasper Møller Hansen of the University of Copenhagen told DR.

Polling stations which experienced significantly higher participation that in 2015 include those in Vollsmose in Odense, Tingbjerg in Copenhagen and Gellerupparken in Aarhus.

The three polling stations saw turnouts increase by 3 percent, 5 percent and 7 percent respectively compared to 2015.

At 70 percent (Vollsmose), 67 percent (Tingbjerg) and 71 percent (Gellerup) the turnouts were still some way short of the national figure of 84.5 percent, however.

“It is great to see that more people are interested in our democracy,” Rabi Azad-Ahmad, an advisor at Aarhus Municipality’s citizens and culture service and polling supervisor in Gellerup, told DR.

“It’s important that everybody takes part and is heard in a democracy,” he added.

The Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) party was the strongest performer in all three areas.

The party wants a more lenient approach to immigration and asylum while also advocating a cautious approach to public spending.

“This is a sign that (non-ethnic Danes) have chosen to back value-oriented left wing parties, as you would expect them to do,” Hansen said.

The national turnout for the 2019 general election was 1.3 percent lower than in 2015, at 84.5 percent.

READ ALSO: High-profile anti-immigration spokesperson loses seat in Danish parliament

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Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed ‘ghetto’

The government’s list of areas it officially terms as ‘ghettos’ has been almost halved, from 28 to 15 areas, in an annual update of the list.

Danish government reduces number of areas officially termed 'ghetto'
Tåstrupgård in Høje-Taastrup is considered a 'ghetto' by the Danish government. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The housing ministry published the latest version of the list, which is updated annually, on Tuesday.

Of the 13 areas removed from the up-to-date list, 3 are in Copenhagen. Others are located in Taastrup, Holbæk, Vejle, Kolding, Aarhus, Køge, Guldborgsund, Odense, Fredericia and Silkeborg. No new areas were added.

The 15 remaining ‘ghetto’ areas include 2 which have been on the list for 5 consecutive years, earning them the term ‘hard ghetto’. When an area is given this tag, authorities are obliged to create a redevelopment plan which must be signed off by the ministry.

Areas which previously qualified as ‘hard ghettos’ but later cease to fulfil the relevant criteria remain subject to the redevelopment plans, which in past cases have involved the rehousing of residents. A total of 17 areas in Denmark are currently encompassed by redevelopment requirements of this kind.

In a press statement, the Ministry for Housing and Transport said that the primary reasons for the reduction in ‘ghetto’ areas are decreases in unemployment and criminal convictions. Improvement in education levels amongst residents, and a drop-off in the proportion of minority ethnic residents also occurred in some areas, the ministry said.

“It’s positive that there are fewer areas on what the legislation calls the hard ghetto list. But the individual redevelopment plans continue to ensure we create mixed cities and don’t park the weakest citizens in one neighbourhood,” the housing minister, Kaare Dybvad Bek, said in the statement.

In order to be classed as a ‘ghetto’, a housing area must meet a set number of criteria. The criteria relate to factors including ethnic background, employment status and income.

Housing areas must have over 1,000 inhabitants, of which over 50 percent of residents have non-Western nationality or heritage, and fulfil two out of four criteria:

  • Over 40 percent of adults aged 18-64 not engaged in employment or education (average over two-year period)
  • Proportion of residents aged 18 or over convicted for criminal, weapons or narcotics crimes must not exceed three times national average (average over two-year period)
  • More than 60 percent of residents (aged 30-59) have basic school education or lower
  • Average pre-tax income for adults aged 18-64, not including unemployed, less than 55 percent of pre-tax income for administrative region.

People considered not of Danish heritage are categorised into two groups: ‘immigrants' and ‘descendants' of immigrants (‘efterkommere' in Danish).

A person is considered to have Danish heritage if she or he has at least one parent who is a Danish citizen and was born in Denmark. People defined as ‘immigrants' and ‘descendants' do not fulfil those criteria. The difference between the two is that an ‘immigrant' was born outside of Denmark, while a ‘descendant' was born in Denmark. 

The list is relevant because, under the 2018 ‘ghetto plan', areas on the list can be subjected to special treatment under the law, including stricter punishments for specified crimes, a requirement for small children to attend daycare and housing reforms which can force people to move.

It has been criticized in the past for stigmatising areas, thereby making it more difficult for them to improve socioeconomic conditions.

The government's use of the word ‘ghetto' for lawmaking purposes may feel jarring to those used to hearing the term in English. It is arguably less pejorative in Danish, although Dybvad Bek has previously said he'd prefer it not to be used.

The ‘ghetto list' was first introduced in 2010 under then-Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen's centre-right government, while a later coalition headed by Rasmussen introduced the ‘ghetto plan' legislation in 2018.

Both the 'ghetto' and 'hard ghetto' lists for 2020 can be viewed in the housing ministry's website.

READ ALSO: Denmark's 'ghetto plan' unlikely to solve problems faced by underprivileged areas: residents