Support for restrictive immigration policies in the European Union 2002–2013: the impact of economic strain and ethnic threat for vulnerable economic groups

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Series Details Vol.19, No.4, September 2017, p440-465
Publication Date September 2017
ISSN 1461-6696
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Testing propositions from ethnic competition theory, we examine contextual and individual determinants of support for restrictive immigration policies in 26 European Union member states between 2002 and 2013, a period characterized by enduring economic downturn.

We hypothesize that natives in vulnerable economic positions, similar to many migrants, are more restrictive toward immigration, because they perceive more economic strain and more ethnic threat. We expect that natives are more restrictive in times of economic decline – when national unemployment rates and debts increase – especially those who hold similar economic positions as many migrants. We enriched European Social Survey data (2002–2013, containing more than 210,000 respondents) with cross-national data on the economic situation. We indeed find that support for immigration restrictiveness is higher among natives in more vulnerable socio-economic positions.

They perceive more economic strain, which is directly related to restrictiveness. But economic strain also increases perceptions of ethnic threat, which is strongly related to restrictiveness. We do, however, not find strong empirical evidence that economic decline more strongly affects support for restrictive immigration policies among vulnerable economic groups. Stronger changes in national debts induce more restrictiveness among the full population, but especially among those who perceive more economic strain and more ethnic threat.

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