Structural data on immigration or immigration perceptions? What accounts for the electoral success of the radical right in Europe?

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Series Details Vol.54, No.4, July 2016, p999–1016
Publication Date July 2016
ISSN 0021-9886
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Targeting immigrants as a threat to employment, security and cultural cohesion, the radical right has averaged 10 percent of the vote in elections. What drives this vote? Are voters affected by the numbers of foreign-born individuals in a geographical region, by negative perceptions about immigrants, or both? In this article, I entertain the possibility that it is not the number of foreigners but citizens’ perceptions about immigrants that explain individuals’ tendencies to vote for the radical right.

To test this stipulation, I combine European Social Survey (ESS) data on individual perceptions of immigrants for more than 25,000 individuals with macro-level data on the actual percentage of foreign-born citizens across 200 European regions. Using a bivariate and multivariate framework, I highlight that it is only the individual perceptions of immigration indicator, and not the number of foreign-born citizens, that is positively related to higher support for radical right-wing parties.

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