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Dimensional issue competition on migration: a comparative analysis of public debates in Western Europe

Abstract

Considering the case of migration, the paper develops a dimensional framework for the analysis of the politicization of complex issues in public debates. It argues that since cross-sectoral issues are multidimensional in nature, public debates about them are best understood in terms of selective emphasis over their constitutive dimensions. Theoretically, the paper combines structural and strategic approaches to explain selective emphasis in public debates on migration. Empirically, it examines seven West European countries from 1995 to 2009 based on claims-making data collected by the Support and Opposition to Migration project team. Focusing on both actor-level and political opportunity determinants of the salience of issue dimensions, the analysis examines the varying importance attributed to four constitutive dimensions of the immigration issue, corresponding to socioeconomic, cultural and religious, security and civic aspects. The findings confirm that the composition of public debates on complex issues is not restricted to one single understanding, but changes depending on the actors involved in the debate and on contextual circumstances defining their involvement. As such, this research has profound implications for the scholarly understanding of issue competition and agenda-setting processes.

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Notes

  1. Limitations on the availability of data made it impossible to include other countries with large anti-immigration parties or that received many immigrants. However, their inclusion would not greatly modify the variables of interest.

  2. The SOM project has received funding from the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013) under Grant Agreement No. 225522.

  3. Newspaper selection accounted for the characteristics of the media systems and for ideological biases (Berkhout et al. 2015). Tabloids and the quality press are similar in the relative importance of each immigration dimension. Yet, tabloids focus even more than the quality press on security, whereas the latter are relatively more attentive to the civic and socioeconomic dimensions. A detailed discussion of newspaper and article selection can be found in Berkhout and Sudulich (2011), and van der Brug et al. (2015).

  4. The original categories included: government; legislatives and political parties; judiciary; police and security actors; state executive agencies; religious organizations; media and journalists; civil society organizations and social movements; minority and racial groups organizations.

  5. State actors include government members and officials, the judiciary, police and security services, and state executive agencies. Civil society actors include religious organizations, civil society organizations, minority organizations and the mass media.

  6. The differentiation of the SOM project distinguished between immigration and civic integration, and across four policy fields: security and crime; economy and the welfare state; politics and institutions; society and culture (Berkhout and Sudulich 2011). Issue dimension salience is measured in absolute terms (real number of claims per year), and in relative terms (share of attention to one issue dimension, relative to all others).

  7. Measured as the total annual inflow of migrants, economic migrants, and asylum seekers, in hundreds of thousands of individuals. Source: OECD Statistics: https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=MIG (accessed on 10/05/2017).

  8. Proportion of votes subsequent to an election year (Source: Ruedin et al. 2012).

  9. Based on a 7-year moving average of combined expert data (Source: Ruedin et al. 2012).

  10. European Commission Eurobarometer surveys (retrieved from the GESIS data archive): 57.2(2002); 59.1(2003); 61(2004); 63.4/2005); 65.2(2006); 67.2(2007); 69.2(2008); 71.1(2009). Data was not available for Switzerland.

  11. Indeed, principal component analysis indicates that the four issue dimension variables do not load on a single factor, whereas the scale reliability coefficient does not reach the minimum threshold of reliability (Crombach’s alpha = 0.15).

  12. The χ2 test of ‘goodness of fit’ indicates that the association is significant but weak: Pearson χ2(3) = 256.81, Pr = 0.000; Cramér’s V = 0.21.

  13. Again, Pearson's χ2 test for independence indicates that the association is significant—Pearson χ2(3) = 92.06, Pr = 0.000, but weak: Cramér's V = 0.16.

  14. χ2(9) = 54.7494, Pr = 0.000; Cramèr’s V = 0.09.

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Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Caterina Froio for her continued support during this research, as well as Laura Morales and Hanspeter Kriesi for their very insightful comments on earlier versions of the paper. The data used in this study was collected as part of the project SOM (Support and Opposition to Migration), European Commission FP7, Grant Agreement No. 225522.

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Correspondence to Pietro Castelli Gattinara.

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Castelli Gattinara, P. Dimensional issue competition on migration: a comparative analysis of public debates in Western Europe. Acta Polit 54, 315–335 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-018-0088-y

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Keywords

  • Issue competition
  • Agenda setting
  • Migration
  • Public debates
  • Political parties