Due to its controversial nature, hate speech prosecution of anti-immigration politicians is likely to affect citizens’ democratic support. Using a web experiment in which participants are exposed to a manipulated television news story about hate speech prosecution, we test these potential effects in the Dutch context. We demonstrate that effects on democratic support are driven by (dis)agreement with ideas expressed by the prosecuted politician in his alleged hate speech rather than by identification with his party. While a decision to not prosecute a politician does not seem to affect democratic support, a decision to prosecute a politician for hate speech decreases democratic support among citizens with anti-immigration attitudes, and increases democratic support among citizens with pro-immigration attitudes. Decisions to prosecute politicians for hate speech thus have important effects not just on supporters of the politician’s party, but also on other groups in society.
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Fennema (1997) defines anti-immigrant parties as a subtype of political party that has adopted the immigration issue as its core political concern, or is considered by elites of other parties to do so. We use the term anti-immigration parties, as they generally oppose immigration in an abstract sense rather than target particular immigrants (cf. Van Spanje 2011).
Hate speech is defined as “all forms of expression which spread, incite, promote or justify racial hatred, xenophobia, anti-Semitism or other forms of hatred based on intolerance, including intolerance expressed by aggressive nationalism and ethnocentrism, discrimination and hostility toward minorities, migrants and people of immigrant origin” (European Court of Human Rights 2017).
We did not formulate a hypothesis about the effects of citizens who identify with opposing parties, because we did not have a strong theoretical argument for doing this. Identification with a different party is likely an imperfect combination of the two moderating factors: someone who identifies with a different party most likely disagrees with the ideas of Hiddema/FvD, and most likely does not identify with Hiddema/FvD, but this is not straightforward and these respondents may still differ in many other aspects. Moreover, in a multi-party and highly fragmented and volatile context as the Netherlands it is difficult to determine which party or politician should be included as ‘opposing’ party, as either all parties could be included, or only a few that are ideologically at the left end of the political spectrum.
The perceived visibility of FvD did not significantly differ across conditions, F(2, 209) = 0.819, p = 0.442, ηp2 = 0.008.
This study is part of a larger experiment (N = 984) with 11 conditions, but with only three relevant to our study (N = 308). From this sample, 4 participants were excluded from the dataset due to speeding (finishing the survey in less than 33% of the median time) or straightlining (not differentiating between answer categories on 75% of the question blocks). According to power analyses, our experimental conditions need 48 participants per condition to conduct the multivariate tests (See Online Supplementary file 5). The sample size per condition should therefore be sufficient for the multivariate test. For the between-subjects tests, we need 64 participants per condition (= 128 participants per test). Although the initial sample sizes are sufficient, the missing values on the dependent variables and moderator variables make the final samples used for the between-subjects tests for immigration attitudes and perceived closeness to FvD (N between 119 and 123) just below the required sample sizes.
As this study solely focuses on democratic support, we use the term “evaluations of democratic performance” instead of Norris’ “evaluations of the overall performance of the regime” (2011). Furthermore, “trust in politicians” is referred to as “trust in elected and appointed officeholders” in Norris’ conceptualization (2011). We do not include the dimension “belonging to the national community” (e.g., national pride), as we do not expect substantial variation on this dimension in the Dutch context.
Removing participants with incorrect answers did not significantly change the findings. Because the results did not significantly differ, and removing participants may risk losing the benefits of randomization (Montgomery et al. 2018), we have decided to include all participants in the sample.
At this point, issues of multiple testing may arise. We did not apply a Bonferroni correction to the between-subjects tests, as this would imply that each p value needs to be smaller than 0.003 to be statistically significant. Because the sample is relatively small and the power of the between-subjects tests is rather low, there is arguably a higher risk for Type II errors—the non-rejection of a false null hypothesis—than for Type I errors. Rather than exclusively focusing on p values, we also include effect sizes (reported as partial eta squares). Effect sizes are more robust than p values as they are independent of sample size and are more resistant to multiple testing. We also include visual explorations of the means for significant findings.
r = 0.554**.
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This work was supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) with a VIDI grant awarded to Dr. Joost van Spanje (Project Number: 452-14-002).
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Wichgers, L., Jacobs, L. & van Spanje, J. Trial and error: hate speech prosecution and its (unintended) effects on democratic support. Acta Polit 57, 143–166 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41269-020-00177-1