On SAGE Insight: How perceptions of immigrants trigger feelings of economic and cultural threats in two welfare states

From European Union Politics

Immigration is increasing in developed societies. Former somewhat liberal immigration policies have caused this increase, particularly in Western European countries. In contrast, various societal actors are skeptical of immigration.  Better understanding of attitudes toward immigration is crucial to avoid misperception of immigration in the public debate . By applying an identical survey experiment on citizens’ attitudes toward immigrants in Denmark and Germany, the robustness with which the classical thesis of economic and cultural threats plays out in these different welfare state contexts is tested. Researchers frequently propose two lines of reasoning. The first highlights the economic perspective of immigration, such as whether immigrants can contribute economically to the country and whether they threaten the job security of natives or burden the welfare state. The other line of reasoning points to the cultural-symbolic threat of immigration: are immigrants perceived as a threat to the nation’s religion, ethnicity, identity, and culture. This study shows that Germans generally have more positive attitudes toward immigrants than Danes. The difference between the countries is substantial. Danes react more strongly to immigrants’ educational and qualification background than do Germans. It is argued that because of Denmark’s larger welfare state and significantly larger social benefit spending, Danes are more afraid that immigration will pose a threat to their universal welfare system. Danes may perceive immigrants as exploiting welfare benefits more than natives and thus as bearing a high economic cost. Highly educated citizens are generally more positive toward immigrants in both countries. That is, highly educated citizens are less inclined to perceive immigration as a threat. It is explained by the sociotropic behavior findings in electoral research and higher education’s promotion of tolerance and cosmopolitanism. However, all citizens in both countries—regardless of their education—prefer highly skilled to low-skilled immigrants with visually distinguishing features (skin color and/or headscarf). The study concludes that strong universal welfare states will face negative attitudes toward immigration as the burden of immigration increases. This skepticism will be strongest among the least educated.


Abstract

Better understanding of attitudes toward immigration is crucial to avoid misperception of immigration in the public debate. Through two identical online survey experiments applying morphed faces of non-Western immigrants and textual vignettes, the authors manipulate complexion, education, family background, and gender in Denmark and Germany. For women, an additional split in which half of the women wore a headscarf is performed. In both countries, highly skilled immigrants are preferred to low-skilled immigrants. Danes are more skeptical toward non-Western immigration than Germans. Essentially, less educated Danes are very critical of accepting non-Western immigrants in their country. It is suggested that this difference is driven by a large welfare state in Denmark compared to Germany, suggesting a stronger fear in welfare societies that immigrants will exploit welfare benefits. 

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Article details
How perceptions of immigrants trigger feelings of economic and cultural threats in two welfare states
Sebastian Fietkau, Kasper M Hansen
First Published October 6, 2017~
DOI: 10.1177/1465116517734064
From European Union Politics


     
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