The aim of this study is to empirically measure the impact of exposure to asylum seekers on political parties and their candidates. In particular, I examine if candidates change their stances on immigration and the welfare state in districts with asylum seekers’ reception centres. I will measure candidates’ issue stances with data from voting advice application surveys (VAA’s), in which each candidate answers a long list of questions about political issues. I utilize a difference-in-differences (DiD) approach to establish whether a new reception centre has an effect on how candidates answer questions that relate to redistributive policies, immigration, and questions related to national identity and social values. The central idea is to test whether it is contact theory (Allport 1954) or conflict theory (Collins 1974) at work, that is, do politicians become more compassionate or exclusive in their campaign promises in the geographical vicinity to refugees.
Although there is a correlation that is easily established in today’s political landscape in Europe between increasing immigration due to the 2015 refugee crisis and the surge in support for far-right and anti-immigration parties, it is hard to establish the causal mechanism at work due to confounding factors as well as lack of micro-level data that would leverage causal inference. The Finnish, exceptionally well administered and popular VAA system provides municipal-level data that makes a causal approach possible for this puzzle. To my knowledge this is the first study that deals with the refugee crisis with causal inference on the elite level.