Engendering Empathy, Begetting Backlash: American Attitudes toward Syrian Refugees

51 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2017

See all articles by Claire L. Adida

Claire L. Adida

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Adeline Lo

Princeton University

Melina Platas

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi

Date Written: May 30, 2017


Existing research has shown how easily individuals are moved to harbor exclusionary attitudes toward out-group members. Can we foster inclusion instead? This paper leverages the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis – one of the most significant humanitarian crises of our time – to test whether and under what conditions American citizens adopt more inclusionary attitudes and behaviors toward Syrian refugees. We conduct a nationally representative survey of American citizens in the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election and experimentally test two mechanisms hypothesized to promote inclusion: information and empathy. We examine attitudinal measures of acceptance of refugees, as well as a substantively important behavioral measure – writing a letter to the 45th president of the United States in support of refugees. Our results unveil significant effects on attitudes and behavior of both empathy and information treatments that are mediated by partisanship. The empathy treatment resulted in an increase in the likelihood of writing a letter in support of refugees. An examination of heterogeneous effects by party reveals that the empathy treatment engendered inclusionary attitudes among Independents, and the increase in letter writing was driven primarily by Democrats, whose underlying attitudes did not change, but also by Republicans. The information treatment, on the other hand, did not robustly improve attitudes or behavior of Democrats or Independents, and may have induced a backlash among Republicans. We discuss implications for understanding what kinds of interventions increase inclusion and which create backlash.

Suggested Citation

Adida, Claire L. and Lo, Adeline and Platas, Melina, Engendering Empathy, Begetting Backlash: American Attitudes toward Syrian Refugees (May 30, 2017). Stanford-Zurich Immigration Policy Lab Working Paper No. 17-01, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2978183 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2978183

Claire L. Adida (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://claire.adida.net

Adeline Lo

Princeton University ( email )

Corwin Hall
Princeton, NJ 08544-1013
United States

Melina Platas

New York University (NYU) - New York University Abu Dhabi ( email )

PO Box 129188
Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates

HOME PAGE: http://melinaplatas.com

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics