The Evolution of the Immigration Debate: A Study of Party Positions Over the Last Half-Century
86 Pages Posted: 25 Jun 2018
Date Written: May 16, 2018
Immigration is one of the most contentious issues across contemporary democracies, but this wasn't always the case. How has this development come about and what are its main features? We study how immigration evolved in the political debate in Western Europe over five decades by creating and analyzing a comprehensive new dataset of all immigration-related appeals made in pre-election manifestos by major parties. Our account focuses on three central debates. First, contra to perceived wisdom, we find no evidence of polarization between Left and Right. Instead, we document a striking co-movement. Second, we find only modest support for the argument that the success of anti-immigrant parties significantly shapes centrist parties' positioning on immigration. Finally, our evidence counters the claim that cultural issues have overtaken the debate over immigration. While the prominence of cultural appeals has increased in certain countries and elections, the economic dimension has overall remained the more prevalent.
Keywords: Immigration, Political Parties, Radical Right Parties, Elections, Party Manifestos, Western Europe
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