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Elections, Party Rhetoric, and Public Attitudes Toward Immigration in Europe

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Recent elections have highlighted how electoral cycles are often accompanied by increases in negative rhetoric surrounding immigration. Exploiting as-if random assignment in individual interview dates for the European Social Survey, this paper examines how proximity to elections affects individual preferences on immigration. We find that closer to elections, attitudes toward immigration become more negative. This effect is primarily driven by country-elections where party platforms are more likely to include anti-immigrant rhetoric. When elections are more distant, these effects largely disappear, highlighting the possibility that anti-immigration electoral mandates are based on artificially inflated concerns of the electorate about immigration. Overall, these results provide important insights into how elections influence issue stances and social cohesion in Europe.

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  1. We exclude from our analysis several countries that are not typically included in an analysis of Europe: Russia, Israel, Turkey, and Ukraine.

  2. In Online Appendix, we provide more details on the validity of the empirical design. See also Fig. A.1.

  3. See Fig. A.2. This data is available for download at

  4. This symmetric analysis reflects our underlying expectation that elections could influence individual attitudes both during the campaign period and after the election occurs. To calculate this measure, we measured a person’s distance to each of their country’s elections, and took the minimum score. This implies that people surveyed midway between two elections received a proximity score that reflected the closest election. For instance, a person surveyed in 2003, 300 days after the 2002 elections and 310 days before the 2004 elections, would get a value of 300.

  5. Plot developed using R’s interflex package, by Jens Hainmueller, Jonathan Mummolo and Yiqing Xu.


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The authors contributed equally and are listed in alphabetical order. We would like to thank the many individuals who helped with this paper including Gary King, David Singer, Teppei Yamamoto, Daniel De Kadt, Weihuang Wong, Nina McMurry, Chagai Weiss, Noam Gidron, and Jennifer Oser. We also acknowledge the valuable feedback we received from participants during presentations at MIT’s Graduate Student Workshop and Hebrew University’s International Graduate Student Conference.

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Correspondence to Elizabeth Dekeyser.

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Dekeyser, E., Freedman, M. Elections, Party Rhetoric, and Public Attitudes Toward Immigration in Europe. Polit Behav 45, 197–209 (2023).

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