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Attitudes towards Refugee Policy in a Divided Europe: A Multilevel Analysis

Quantitative
Asylum
Decision Making
Public Opinion
Policy-Making
Refugee
Arno Van Hootegem
University of Leuven
Arno Van Hootegem
University of Leuven
Bart Meuleman
University of Leuven
Koen Abts
University of Leuven

Abstract

The large inflow of asylum-seekers in recent years has intensified divides between states that have introduced restrictive asylum procedures and nations that have adopted more welcoming policies. Although a growing body of research has addressed these opposing approaches and their implications for the European integration project, insight into the social basis of these restrictive or generous refugee policies remains underdeveloped. Hence, the current study sets out to provide detailed insight into how public preferences for refugee policies take shape within and between European states. First, we expect that economic and cultural threat perceptions can help understand why some societal groups support more restrictive policies, as they have previously been mobilized to explain attitudes towards foreigners. Second, to take the plausible effect of value structures of individuals into account, the roles of two human values, universalism and conformity-tradition, are studied. Third, we aim to explain country-differences in refugee policy preferences by focusing on the impact of the economic, migratory and policy context. In particular, we investigate the influence of unemployment rates, the number of asylum-seekers per 1000 inhabitants, the proportion of asylum-seekers from Middle Eastern conflict regions and the approval rate of asylum applications. To explore these relations, data on 20 countries from the European Social Survey Round 8 (2016) are analysed through a multilevel structural equation modelling approach. Results indicate that, as expected, the value universalism, which emphasises the acceptation of all individuals and the importance of treating everyone equally, fosters support for welcoming policies, while the value conformity-tradition, which includes an attachment to the maintenance and protection of traditions and norms, instigates support for the limited admission of refugees. Simultaneously, economic and cultural threat perceptions strongly impact attitudes towards refugee policy, which illustrates that individuals who perceive migration as detrimental to the economic situation and the cultural institutions are more inclined to reject generous policies. On the contextual-level, only unemployment rates have a significant effect and, rather surprisingly, lower unemployment rates provoke a more negative opinion climate. The migratory and policy context, on the other hand, do not influence attitudes towards refugee policy. This illustrates that the refugee policy preferences of the public do not necessarily mirror the political divides between European member states.