Political parties and anti-immigrant prejudice in Europe: A cross-national comparative approach


Theoretical background and objectives

The issue of widespread anti-immigrant attitudes in European societies remains intensely debated in both the scholarly literature and the general public. However, most existing studies seeking to explain cross-national variation in the prevalence of such hostile stances have limited their focus on the influence of structural indicators such as the relative size of the immigrant population only. Unlike this line of research, this study shifts attention to the role political parties play in explaining cross-national and over time variation in European citizens' anti-immigrant attitudes. Informed by general theories of group conflict, political institutions and political behaviour, we investigate to what extent and under what conditions the rhetoric of political parties enhances or mitigates hostile stances towards immigrants.

Research design and methodology

To test our theoretical expectations, we employ three different data sources. First, individual-level measures of European citizens' anti-immigrant attitudes will be derived from the European Value Studies 2000. Second, country-level indicators on ethnic diversity and economic conditions – two important alternative sources of country-level differences in anti-immigrant attitudes – will be derived from Eurostat. Third, country-level information on the role of ethnic diversity in the rhetoric of political parties is derived from the Comparative Manifestos Project. To adequately test the empirical merits of our theoretical model, we will use multilevel generalised linear models.


Our preliminary findings (restricted to the EVS 2000) show indeed evidence that the rhetoric of political parties – such as appeals to nationalism and patriotism – is positively related to the prevalence of anti-immigrant attitudes. Additionally, and consistent with theoretical expec­tations, we observe that the strength of this effect is amplified for citizens reporting higher levels of political interest. These preliminary findings underline the need to include the rhetoric of political parties in future inquiry on anti-immigrant attitudes.