A Nationalist Backlash to International Refugee Law: Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Turkey
39 Pages Posted: 23 May 2018 Last revised: 18 Mar 2021
Date Written: April 27, 2019
How do international laws affect citizens' willingness to accept refugees? In full and partial democracies, citizens' attitudes can influence national policy. A growing literature suggests international institutions can influence citizens' attitudes on foreign policy issues, and therefore lead to policy change. But those studies are almost entirely confined to domestic human rights and U.S.-based respondents; none consider refugee policy. Using data from a survey experiment administered in September 2017 via face-to-face interviews with 1335 Turkish citizens, we investigate how international norms affect citizens' willingness to accept refugees. Our findings are surprising: reminding people about the government's responsibility under the Refugee Convention to accept refugees triggers a backfire effect, decreasing support for accepting them. This effect appears driven by respondents who support the nationalist-populist incumbent party and by lower-educated respondents. We therefore provide evidence that international refugee law -- and perhaps international institutions generally -- can trigger a political backlash, undermining the very policies that they promote.
Keywords: refugees, Refugee Convention, migration, international law, Turkey, nationalism
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