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Abstract

Research on the role of politics in shaping public views about immigration is surprisingly limited. We aim to advance this literature by (1) paying more attention to moderating effects of political variables and (2) analyzing separately how politics shapes empirical perceptions, normatively laden beliefs, and entirely normative attitudes about immigration. We combine socio-economic and political data with public opinion data from 34 European countries and multiple time periods (the European Social Survey of 2002 and 2014 and the European Values Survey of 2008 and 2017) to investigate the role anti-immigrant party success and ideological orientation play in public perceptions about the size of the immigrant population, public beliefs about immigrants’ reliance on welfare and their impact on crime, and public attitudes about socialization with immigrants (having a close relative marry an immigrant). Our main findings are threefold. First, anti-immigrant party success tends to lead to more negative public opinion about immigration. Second, ideological orientation crucially shapes public opinion: not only is it a powerful bivariate predictor of public beliefs and attitudes, but it also interacts in meaningful ways with other influences on public opinion. Third, political variables have a larger effect on value-laden attitudes and beliefs than on perceptions of empirical reality.

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Notes

  1. Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. This sample includes every country for which data was available for at least two data points (except Belarus and Russia, where our theoretical propositions about the effect of democratic politics are unlikely to apply).

  2. These two questions perfectly illustrate our conceptualization of “beliefs” as views that combine empirical perceptions with normative associations. While they do probe empirical perceptions (the degree to which immigrants make use of social benefits and are involved in criminal activities), they do so by relying on clearly normative phrasing.

    The former question asks about an empirical perception (the degree to which immigrants make use of social benefits and programs) but does so in a way that carries a negative normative evaluation by using the word “strain.” Similarly, the latter question asks respondents to share their empirical perception of the degree to which immigrants are involved in criminal activities but relies on the clearly normative phrasing that immigrants “make crime problems worse.”

  3. Including these variables reduces the number of observations considerably, and therefore predictably leads to different effect sizes and significance levels. Nevertheless, doing so does not lead to substantively different conclusions than the ones that are presented here. These results are not shown, but can be made available upon request.

  4. The 2008 wave of the EVS does not include this precise question, and therefore, we rely on self-reported frequency of following (political) news “in the media” instead.

  5. Bivariate scatterplots of the relationship between each independent variable and dependent variable do not provide any reason to suspect nonlinearity. These plots are not shown but can be made available upon request.

  6. In some instances (especially in data on welfare reliance), we have employed two-year lags or no lags at all to maximize data availability. For the same reason, for some observations, we rely on interpolated or extrapolated data. Details are available upon request.

  7. First, we ran models with slightly different measures of some of the key variables: rather than measuring immigrants’ overreliance on unemployment and social assistance benefits in particular, we also ran analyses that measured their overreliance on all social benefits included in the Luxembourg Income Survey, and instead of measuring foreigners’ overrepresentation in the prison population in absolute terms, we also ran models that measured this overrepresentation in relative terms. Second, we re-ran our analysis of welfare perceptions while excluding the cases of Slovakia and Hungary, for which the data from the Luxembourg Income Survey rely on a small number of immigrant respondents. Third, we ran separate analyses for the Western European and Eastern European countries under investigation to recognize the large political differences between them. Fourth, we re-ran our analyses after excluding country-years with extreme values on key independent variables and, in separate models, after excluding countries that experienced extremely large changes on key independent variables. The results from these models are not included here, but can be made available upon request.

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Both authors contributed to the study conception and design. Material preparation, data collection, and analysis were performed by Edward Koning. The first draft of the manuscript was written by Edward Koning and both authors commented on previous versions of the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Edward Anthony Koning.

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Appendix

Appendix

Table 2 Source information
Table 3 Descriptive statistics
Table 4 Regression models with clustered standard errors and country- and year-fixed effects, predicting perceptions on size, beliefs about welfare reliance and criminal, and attitudes about relatives marrying immigrants

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Koning, E.A., Kaushal, N. The Role of Politics in Public Views About Immigrants. Int. Migration & Integration (2024). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-024-01158-5

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