M. Schaub, J. Gereke, D. Baldassarri, “Foreigners in hostile hinterlands: Local exposure to refugees and right-wing support in Eastern Germany after the refugee crisis”, under review.
ABSTRACT: How does first-time, local exposure to foreigners influence attitudes towards them and support for right-wing parties? The article exploits a natural experiment: the allocation of refugees to municipalities in the rural hinterlands of Eastern Germany during the refugee crisis of 2015. Similar to rural regions elsewhere, the area has seen a major shift towards the political right. The paper relies on an innovative design, in which 1,320 German citizens were sampled from 236 closely-matched municipalities, only half of which received refugees. Survey and behavioral measures show widespread anti-immigrant sentiments and strong support for right-wing parties, but these are not affected by the physical allocation of refugees in a municipality. Our results are corroborated by the analysis of a range of mechanisms related to our outcomes that are left unaffected by local exposure to refugees. This overall null effect, however, masks some important differences: We find that the presence of refugees has served as a `reality check' for both right- and left-leaning individuals, making them more moderate. We conclude that the allocation of refugees in areas without significant prior history of immigration has had little bearing on anti-immigrant attitudes and right-wing support.
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