Does exposure to the refugee crisis fuel anti-immigrant sentiment and support for extreme-right parties? Despite heated debates about the political repercussions of the refugee crisis in Europe, there exists very little, and sometimes conflicting, evidence with which to assess the impact of a large influx of refugees on natives’ political attitudes and behavior. We provide new causal evidence from a natural experiment in Greece, where some Aegean islands close to the Turkish border have experienced sudden and drastic increases in the number of Syrian refugees while other islands slightly farther away—but with otherwise similar institutional and socioeconomic characteristics—did not. Placebo tests suggest that pre-crisis trends in vote shares for exposed and non-exposed islands were virtually identical. This allows us to obtain unbiased estimates of the political consequences of the refugee crisis. Our study shows that among islands that faced a massive inflow of refugees just before the September 2015 election, vote shares for Golden Dawn, the most extreme-right party in Europe, increased by 2 percentage points (a 44 percent increase at the average). Furthermore, we find that in our targeted survey of 2,000 islands residents, immediate exposure to the crisis induced lasting increases in natives' hostility toward immigrant and Muslim minorities; support for restrictive asylum and immigration policies; and political engagement to bring such policies about. Our findings have implications for the theoretical understanding of the “flash potential” of immigration politics as well as for the management of refugee flows.
Dominik Hangartner is an Associate Professor in the Department of Methodology at the London School of Economics and Political Science and Faculty Co-Director of the Immigration Policy Lab with branches at Stanford University and the University of Zurich. He is also an affiliate member of the Department of Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science. After pre-doctoral fellowships at Harvard University, Washington University in Saint Louis, and the University of California, Berkeley, he received his Ph.D. in Social Science from the University of Bern in 2011.
He uses field work and statistics to study the effects of migration policies and political institutions. His work has been published in leading scholarly journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, American Political Science Review, and Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and has received several awards including the Philip Leverhulme Prize.