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The Masks of the Political God by Luca Ozzano

Exploring the Impact of Local Context on Attitudes towards Refugees

Political Psychology
Elisa Deiss-Helbig
Universität Stuttgart
Elisa Deiss-Helbig
Universität Stuttgart
Uwe Remer
Universität Stuttgart

The recent influx of refugees to Europe induced manifold challenges in the host societies. Labeled as the “refugee crisis”, the issue dominates public debate and the political agenda, as it affects not only asylum policy but also further neighboring policy fields. Opinion polls show evidence for negative attitudes towards asylum seekers and increasing electoral support for right-wing populist parties. Though there is only limited data available, hate crimes against asylum seekers appear to be “pervasive and grave” throughout the EU (FRA 2016).
Recent work dealing with attitudes towards asylum seekers is sparse. Bansak et al. (2016) use a conjoint-experiment to identify characteristics of asylum seekers that affect the willingness to accept the asylum seekers. They conclude that sociotropic economic, humanitarian concerns and an anti-Muslim sentiment shape the preferences of European citizens. Similar results are found by Czymara/Schmidt-Catran (2016) on basis of a factorial survey in Germany. Zorlu (2016) focuses on the local opposition against asylum seekers centers (ASC) in the Netherlands. Against common perceptions, negative attitudes towards asylum seekers are not more pronounced in communities hosting an ASC than in other small communities.
However, given the sparse amount of recent research, empirical evidence regarding the interplay between the local presence of minority groups, attitudes towards members of those groups, as well as further local contextual factors is limited. The proposed paper will contribute to new insights into this poorly researched topic by applying the following research questions: Does the actual local presence of refugees influence negative attitudes towards this minority group or are the common predictors of prejudicial attitudes more important? If so, does the local context moderate the effect of the admission of asylum seekers on attitudes towards asylum seekers?
To explain the anti-asylum sentiments, we rely on a long tradition dealing with negative attitudes towards minority groups (Hainmueller/Hopkins 2014). The body of literature provides a range of factors that prove to be relevant. Mixed evidence can be found for economic considerations regarding self-interest, labor market competition and burdens on the welfare state (Pecoraro/Ruedin 2016; Hainmueller/Hiscox 2010). Stronger evidence can be found for sociotropic explanations and for psychological mechanisms. These explain negative attitudes towards minorities as a result of a specific belief system, personality trait or socialization such as authoritarianism (Pettigrew 2016), in-group/out-group perceptions related to social identity theory (Tajfel 1982, Tajfel/Turner 1986) or of relative deprivation (Runciman 1966), anomia/alienation (Seeman 1959) or realistic/symbolic threat (Stephan/Stephan 1996). Intergroup contact is a further important predictor, as it reduces anxiety and generates empathy (Pettigrew 1997; Pettigrew et al. 2011). The local context often serves as moderating factor, as important spatial differences regarding the number of minorities and the general local context can be found (Urban/Mayerl 2006).
We draw on original survey data of roughly 1,000 residents of the city of Stuttgart, Germany, carried out in late 2016. Official records on refugee allocation and detailed information on the local context supplement the survey data. The exceptionally high resolution of the data allows us to estimate multilevel models for 152 lower urban districts.
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