A Choice‐Based Measure of Issue Importance in the Electorate

The forthcoming article “A Choice-Based Measure of Issues Importance in the Electorate” by Chris Hanretty, Benjamin E. Lauderdale and Nick Vivyan is summarized by the authors below.

A Choice‐Based Measure of Issue Importance in the Electorate

A Choice‐Based Measure of Issue Importance in the Electorate

**Some issues are more important to voters than 

This is a simple idea, but measuring “issue importance” is hard. 

If you ask people what issue is most important to them, they often mention issues that they’ve read or heard lots about, not necessarily issues that are personally important to them.  These self-reports aren’t that helpful: knowing what issue a respondent *says* is most important to them often [doesn’t help us make much sense of how they *vote*](https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-018-9494-0). 

Our article takes a different approach. Instead of asking survey respondents to pick important issues, we ask respondents which positions they prefer themselves and then ask them to pick between sets of issue positions, presented as fictional candidate platforms. We fielded our survey in the UK, but nothing about our method is specific to the UK except the issues and positions we use. You can see an example of the issue positions presented to respondents in Figure 1; Figure 2 shows the choice between fictional candidates. Respondents get to pick one of the two bundles, or to say that they’re not sure. 

These choices don’t show which issues were most important for specific individuals, but they do show which issues tend to influence voting most strongly overall.  If respondents tend to pick a bundle which gives them their most-preferred policy on issue X, no matter what positions the hypothetical candidates take on issues Y and Z, then we learn that issue X is more important to them than Y and Z.  The core intuition is that what we actually mean by an issue being more “important” is that changing a candidate’s positions on that issue has a greater tendency to make people choose different candidates than they otherwise would have. 

A final element of our importance measure is that, for an issue to be politically important, respondents have to feel strongly about the range of alternatives that other respondents frequently hold. Healthcare in the UK is a good example of the need to consider the distribution of opinion.  One possible position that we presented on this issue is to privatize the National Health Service and let companies charge what they want for medical care. This position has a *really strong* impact on people’s choices: very few people say they would vote for candidates who want to privatize the NHS. But this position also isn’t one which many people support. We therefore weight how much people dislike different political positions by the frequency with which those positions are held in the population. For an issue to be important as we understand it, people need to really dislike positions that many other people say they support. 

One key finding is that while obvious high profile issues like the future relationship of the UK with the EU are important by our measure, there are also issues ignored by current political contestation where the public disagrees intensely.  The death penalty has not been used in the UK since the 1960s and is rarely a subject to political debate, but if parties were to take up differing positions on this issue, our experiment suggests that it would become very contentious.  There are substantial factions among UK citizens on opposing sides of the issue and they seem to put a lot of weight on the issue in candidate comparisons.  That lack of current contestation on this issue might be good or bad — but the latent conflict is something that our method can identify which previous methods cannot.  ​ 


About the Authors: Chris Hanretty is Professor, Royal Holloway, University of London, School of Politics, International Relations and Philosophy, Benjamin E. Lauderdale is Professor, University College London, Department of Political Science and Nick Vivyanis is Professor, Durham University, School of Government and International Affairs. Their research “A Choice-Based Measure of Issues Importance in the Electorate” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

When Do Displaced Persons Return? Postwar Migration among Christians in Mount Lebanon

The forthcoming article “When Do Displaced Persons Return? Postwar Migration among Christians in Mount Lebanonby Kara Ross Camarena and Nils Hägerdal is summarized  by the authors below.

When Do Displaced Persons Return? Postwar Migration among Christians in Mount Lebanon

After wars end, there is great hope that people displaced by violence will be able to return to their homes and resume their lives. Provisions for return are often written into peace treaties. Governments set up departments devoted to helping returnees. Local and international organizations invest in helping returnees to rebuild their lives. Despite these efforts in many cases, few displaced persons return to their original homes. We study postwar migration among Lebanese Christians displaced during the 1980s, where only about 20% of the displaced returned to live in their villages of origin. Using variation in villages’ abilities to take advantage of the world olive oil boom and price shocks, we show that economic prospects in displaced persons’ original villages drive return. Further, even when there is little threat of violence, displaced Christians avoid returning to places where they would live among non-Christians

We challenge a definition of return that requires permanent residence. Many displaced Christians in Lebanon regularly visit their original homes but live and work in urban areas with more vibrant economies. These once displaced persons do not live in their original homes. They do maintain meaningful connections to their place of origin, and their displacement has a resolution. They become like labor migrants who live in a place with economic opportunity, but return home regularly for personal, familial, and social reasons.

Even taking into account that some people return home as visitors, there is variation in the return among Christians displaced from Mt. Lebanon. In some villages, nearly all the displaced returned permanently. In other villages they returned, but mostly as visitors. Other villages had little return of any kind. Economic opportunity is a key explanation for this variation. Using a natural experiment, we show that there is more permanent return to villages with growing economic opportunities. Nevertheless, there is a negative relationship between return and the original ethnic composition of a village; the more mixed the village, the less displaced persons return or visit.

One key implication of our study is that having displaced persons return as permanent residents need not be a postwar policy goal. When the displaced left areas of economic decline for vibrant urban locations, economic reconstruction may be more effective when targeted at displaced persons’ new surroundings. A similar logic pertains to transitional justice efforts. Displaced persons, who were once dispossessed by wartime violence but now return as regular visitors, are no longer deprived of enjoying their original homes. There is no obvious reason why policymakers should turn regular visitors—or persons who are happily settled and have no desire to return—into permanent residents. Transitional justice programs should not limit their evaluations to permanent resident return but also examine whether regular visitors indicate success in mending intergroup relations.


About the Authors: Kara Ross Camarena is Postdoctoral Researcher, Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago and Nils Hägerdal is Postdoctoral Fellow, Center for Strategic Studies, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. Their research When Do Displaced Persons Return? Postwar Migration among Christians in Mount Lebanon is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

Equity and Political Economy in Thomas Hobbes

The forthcoming article “Equity and Political Economy in Thomas Hobbes” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12507) by Lee Ward is summarized by the author below.

Equity and Political Economy in Thomas Hobbes

What can a seventeenth-century English political philosopher possibly teach us today about the challenges confronting the contemporary liberal democratic state in the age of Brexit and Trump? Actually, quite a lot, especially if that thinker is Thomas Hobbes. Hobbes has long been recognized as one of the founding figures of the modern idea of the state. Indeed, for decades Hobbes has been cited as one of the great authorities that established a distinctive philosophical anthropology of the acquisitive, bourgeois individual, the protection of whose property rights provides the legitimate end of the night watchman, minimalist classical liberal state.  This is to say, Hobbes is often considered to be one of the theoretical inspirations for a definition of liberalism that is inseparable from free market economics. 

In this study, I argue that Hobbes’ theory of the state and economics has been too often misunderstood.  Hobbes in fact reminds us that classical liberalism was not only about individual rights, especially property rights.  It was also built upon a normative idea of equality, or what Hobbes terms “equity,” which means that Hobbes’ conception of the state cannot be reduced to an instrumental device simply devoted to protecting property rights and the sanctity of contract.  In this study, I demonstrate that Hobbes’ account of political economy presupposed considerable scope for government action with respect to regulation of markets and redistribution of wealth; government action in service of the natural law principles of equity and fairness. 

Hopefully by reexamining a figure as familiar as Hobbes with fresh eyes, this study will encourage us to reconsider what we think we already know about the classical liberal tradition, a version of which continues to influence contemporary liberal theory and practice. If Hobbes is not the apostle of acquisitive capitalism that we have long been told he is, then perhaps the classical liberal political tradition is more diverse than we have long assumed it to be.  With this possibility for a new perspective about the origins of the liberal idea of the state, we may be able to better understand and critique contemporary liberal democratic states as they face deep challenges of legitimacy in the age of austerity and populism.  Arguably Hobbes has never been more relevant than today. 


About the Author: Lee Ward is Professor, Department of Political Science, Baylor University. Their research “Equity and Political Economy in Thomas Hobbes” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12507) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

A Public Ethics of Care for Policy Implementation

The forthcoming article “A Public Ethics of Care for Policy Implementation” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12487) by Daniel Engster is summarized by the author below.

A Public Ethics of Care for Policy Implementation

Dealing with government bureaucrats can be downright unpleasant at times. We may feel unheard, unseen, disrespected, and subject to seemingly arbitrary rules. How do these experiences mesh with the ideals of liberal-democratic government – particularly the notion that government should be attentive and responsive to the people and not govern in autocratic ways? 

In A Public Ethics of Care for Policy Implementation,” I suggest it is not. Liberal democracies have generally assumed that hierarchical, rule-bound, and impartial “Weberian” bureaucratic ethics is best suited for carrying out policies through the public bureaucracy. The idea is that bureaucrats will support liberal-democratic ideals by faithfully and mechanically enforcing the laws and policies enacted by the people’s democratically-elected representatives.  

The problem with this perspective is that bureaucrats invariably do have some discretion in applying laws and policies to individuals. This point, emphasized by Michael Lipsky in Street-Level Bureaucracy, has become a staple of research on policy implementation. Street-level bureaucrats, including social workers, child protection workers, police officers, municipal judges, and others all must decide which laws and policies apply to which particular individuals and cases, when, and how. Discretion is inherent in their jobs.  

Rule-bound and impartial bureaucratic ethics encourage administrators to disclaim this discretion for a rigid, one-size-fits-all approach to policy implementation. This is one of reasons dealing with government bureaucrats can be so frustrating. They claim they are “just following the rules” but we intuitively understand that they are actually following one interpretation of the rules and applying it without regard to our unique circumstances.  

If the discretion inherent in policy implementation is to be made consistent with liberal-democratic principles, I argue it must be subjected to democratic sanctioning. I propose in my article a public ethics of care as an alternative to the existing rule-bound, impartial bureaucratic ethics for achieving this democratic sanctioning and manifesting liberal principles of limited and responsive government in the public bureaucracy. A public ethics of care provides a model for the attentive and responsive use of discretion within the law by encouraging bureaucrats to relate to individuals as persons and work with them in appropriate ways to apply laws and policies to their circumstances. It can be achieved by emphasizing this approach within the administrative culture and changing promotion and review guidelines to reflect caring values. 

Integrating a public ethics of care into public administrations is important because, as Lipsky argued, individuals experience state power primarily through their encounters with street-level bureaucrats. If street-level bureaucrats exercise their powers in inattentive, unresponsive, and domineering ways, this is how many citizens will experience the liberal-democratic state.

About the Author: Daniel Engster is Professor, Hobby School of Public Affairs, The University of Houston. His research “A Public Ethics of Care for Policy Implementation” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12487) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

The Policy Basis of Measured Partisan Animosity in the United States

The forthcoming article “The Policy Basis of Measured Partisan Animosity in the United States” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12498) by Lilla V. Orr and Gregory A. Huber is summarized by the authors below.

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Mass politics in the United States is increasingly characterized as being driven by overt hostility between Democrats and Republicans. So called partisan “teamism” is thought to extend beyond conflict over policies to include personal animosity toward members of the opposing party on the basis of their partisanship. Understanding and addressing the consequences of partisan animosity requires knowledge of its foundations. To what extent is animosity between partisan groups motivated by dislike for partisan out groups per se, other social group conflicts, or policy disagreement? In many circumstances, including most experimental research to date, these patterns are observationally equivalent.  

Scholars, journalists, and political leaders have argued that partisanship has become a kind of tribalism, in which members of each party blindly loath fellow citizens on the basis of their identity as members of the opposite party.1 In this view, Democrats and Republicans loath members of the other party precisely because of their membership in that out group. Others have argued, however, that this animosity does not arise solely on the basis of partisan identity, but is instead driven by hostility towards other social groups stereotypically associated with the parties. For example, Democrats may hold animus against Republicans because they assume Republicans to be evangelical Christians, while Republicans view Democrats as a group largely comprised of people of color.2  

However, these perspectives potentially ignore the fact that political parties in the United States are most fundamentally associated with policy platforms. Told nothing but a candidate for office’s partisanship, most people can readily guess that candidate’s likely positions on a host of contentious issues, from abortion policy to taxes. This fact suggests an alternative theoretical mechanism for why partisans sometimes express animosity toward members of their opposing party, one in which animosity is not about partisanship or group membership, but is instead driven by conflict about salient issues. To continue the example above, Democrats may express toward Republicans because they assume Republicans oppose abortion rights while Republicans object to Democrats as a group working to expand affirmative action. Such an account is particularly intriguing because despite clear elite polarization on key issues, the mass parties are much more heterogeneous, with substantial portions of Democrats holding moderate or conservative positions and Republicans having moderate or liberal positions. 

We designed a series of experiments that allow us to estimate the importance of policy views as a driver of partisan animosity. Using the same basic outcome measure as prior research, each survey respondent was asked to read a short vignette describing an individual. In line with prior research, we randomized the partisanship of that individual. Departing from prior work, however, we also randomized whether or not partisanship was presented alongside other information that respondents might assume on the basis of party. We estimated effects of shared partisanship when additional information was or was not present, and benchmarked these effects against the effects of a shared policy preference. 

When no other politically relevant information was provided, we found that partisans evaluated vignettes more positively when the vignettes shared a party identification than when they described an opposing partisanship. But this effect of shared party is smaller than the effect of a shared policy position when each is presented in isolation. Partisanship effects in our experiments were about 71% as large as shared policy preference effects.

Further, when an independently randomized party and policy position were presented together, survey respondents appeared to evaluate the vignettes primarily on the basis of their policy position. When any policy position was listed in the vignette partisanship effects decreased substantially, dropping by about 52%. Policy effects remained large even when partisanship was also known, decreasing by only about 10%. Overall, people responded more positively to opposing partisans who shared a policy position than members of their own party who held a policy position the respondent opposed.

These basic trends held across a variety of issue positions related to immigration, gun control, welfare, abortion, and rights for same sex couples. Trends also held within both major parties. Even the strongest partisans, who care greatly about shared partisanship and shared policy positions when presented in isolation, evaluated vignettes primarily on the basis of policy positions when both were known. 

In a second experiment, we explored what traits survey respondents believe to be most important for positive social interactions. We asked respondents to imagine that they were assigning seats for a friend’s wedding reception, and that they could learn a bit about each guest. Which three pieces of information would they like to learn about the guests in order to ensure that everyone has a good time? Respondents most frequently asked to learn about how the guests know the couple, a personality trait, and a hobby. Gender and sexuality, partisanship, and religion were requested less often, each by about 20% of respondents. For a random subset of respondents, we also gave them the opportunity to learn about guests’ policy preferences. Requests to learn partisanship dropped substantially in this condition. Although a small proportion of respondents asked to learn about both, more people appear to perceive potential conflict along the dimension of policy rather than partisanship.

Together, these results suggest that common measures of partisan animosity may capture programmatic conflict more so than social identity-based partisan hostility. As we work to prevent and mitigate the worst repercussions of partisan animosity, it is essential to incorporate an understanding of this hostility as something more than pure partisan animus or an outgrowth of social group conflict. Instead, partisan animosity seems fundamentally driven by political conflict.  

1 Packer, George. October 12, 2018 https://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/a-new-report-offers-insights-into-tribalism-in-the-age-of-trump; Mason, Lilliana. ““I disrespectfully agree”: The differential effects of partisan sorting on social and issue polarization.” American Journal of Political Science 59.1 (2015): 128-145.

2 Ahler, Douglas J., and Gaurav Sood. “The parties in our heads: Misperceptions about party composition and their consequences.” The Journal of Politics 80.3 (2018): 964-98

About the Authors: Lilla V. Orr is Graduate Student, Department of Political Science, at Yale University and Gregory A. Huber is Forst Family Professor of Political Science at Yale University. Their research “The Policy Basis of Measured Partisan Animosity in the United States” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12498) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

Sometimes Less Is More: Censorship, News Falsification, and Disapproval in 1989 East Germany

Does Affirmative Action Worsen Bureaucratic Performance? Evidence from the Indian Administrative Service

The forthcoming article “Does Affirmative Action Worsen Bureaucratic Performance? Evidence from the Indian Administrative Service” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12497) by Rikhil R. Bhavnani and Alexander Lee is summarized by the author(s) below.

Does Affirmative Action Worsen Performance

Although many countries recruit bureaucrats using affirmative action,
the effect of affirmative action recruits on bureaucratic performance
has rarely been examined. Some worry that affirmative action worsens
bureaucratic performance by diminishing the quality of recruits, while
others posit that it improves performance by making recruits more
representative of and responsive to the population.

This paper examines the effects of affirmative action in India, which
has a powerful upper bureaucracy that recruits using affirmative
action. India’s elite bureaucracy, the Indian Administrative Service
(IAS), is one of the world’s most powerful, monopolizing the most
important bureaucratic posts and supervising the implementation of
anti-poverty programs vital to hundreds of millions. While IAS
officers are selected through a fiercely competitive national exam, at
least 50% of positions are reserved for members of three categories of
traditionally marginalized groups whose low exam scores would
otherwise disqualify them from office.

Our dataset, obtained using online sources and India’s Right to
Information Act, includes detailed data on the origins, educational
backgrounds and complete service histories of every IAS officer, as
well as their caste category and exam scores. The latter two criteria
determine whether and how–with or without affirmative
action–candidates joined the IAS. We therefore know which candidates
were recruited using affirmative action, and by how much they

We focus on the implementation of the world’s largest anti-poverty
program, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act
(MGNREGA), which aims to reduce poverty by providing rural households
with employment on public works as needed.

To estimate the effects of affirmative action on bureaucratic output,
we examine whether the assignment of affirmative action hires to
districts changes MGNREGA outcomes in those districts. We find that
districts served by affirmative action recruits have similar levels of
MGNREGA employment to other districts. We find similar results when we
estimate the effects of affirmative action hires on road construction,
and time to approval of projects sponsored by legislators using their
constituency development funds.

To explore the mechanisms behind the null estimated effect of
affirmative action, we disaggregate the affirmative action treatment
bundle into two components–disadvantaged group status and exam
performance. We find a slight, statistically insignificant, negative
association between MGNREGA implementation and officer exam rank,
which is more than counterbalanced by a positive and statistically
significant association between disadvantaged group identity and
MGNREGA implementation. In other words, among officers with similar
exam ranks, disadvantaged group officers perform better than others.
The fact that disadvantaged group IAS recruits perform poorly on the
interview portion of the recruitment exam, where it is relatively easy
to guess caste identity, rather than the more objective written
portions of the exam, points to the specific stage at which candidate
quality is understated.

Our results suggest that, at least within selective bureaucracies like
the IAS, improvements in diversity can be obtained without efficiency
losses for some kinds of bureaucratic output. This finding allows us
to reject the worst fears of affirmative action skeptics, namely that
these programs inevitably worsen bureaucratic performance.

About the Author(s): Rikhil Bhavnani is Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison and Alexander Lee is Assistant Professor at the University of Rochester. Their research “Does Affirmative Action Worsen Bureaucratic Performance? Evidence from the Indian Administrative Service” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12497) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.

AJPS Editor’s Blog

December 1st marked our first six months as co-editors of AJPS. We want to thank our associate editors, board members, authors, and reviewers for a very smooth transition. Now that we have some experience under our belts, we thought we’d offer some thoughts about several topics that might be helpful to reviewers and authors alike. So, on the occasional Tuesday, we’ll post a short entry about some aspect of the journal submission, review, or publication process that we’ve had to address over the course of the last six months. While these issues are probably relevant to most journals, we only speak for ourselves and our expectations for AJPS.

Proposing and Opposing Reviewers

AJPS, like many other journals, gives authors an opportunity to suggest appropriate reviewers as well as identify scholars authors might like us to avoid. Throughout the course of the last few months, it’s become clear that a few dos and don’ts might be helpful as complete the proposing and opposing reviewers boxes in Editorial Manager.

Here are three tips when proposing reviewers:

  • Avoid common conflicts of interest – your department colleagues, recent co-authors, member of your dissertation committee, etc. are not appropriate reviewers. In fact, screening for those people is part of our technical check process.
  • Please don’t recommend people who have previously read and commented on the manuscript, whether as a conference discussant or as a more informal collegial favor. Whenever possible, we prefer people to come to a manuscript with a fresh set of eyes.
  • Identify subfield experts, experts in your particular methodology, or younger scholars who might not yet be a part of our reviewer database.

Opposing reviewers is a bit trickier. Without suggesting that academics can engage in petty personal squabbles or have territorial interests around subject areas, we understand that conflicts between scholars can color a reviewer’s assessment. If you believe that a likely reviewer is not well-suited to assess the manuscript objectively – perhaps you’ve had personal disputes, maybe the person was unprofessional at a conference on a panel, we could go on – then please provide a brief statement as to why we should avoid this scholar. Simply noting that the person comes at your question from a different perspective is insufficient. Indeed, these are the very people who should be reading and evaluating your work.

As editors, we take these suggestions into account, although we do not guarantee that we will follow any of the suggestions.  But providing us with specific reasons for whom you propose and whom you’d like us to avoid will help us best evaluate the request.

AJPS Editor’s Blog

December 1st marked our first six months as co-editors of AJPS. We want to thank our associate editors, board members, authors, and reviewers for a very smooth transition. Now that we have some experience under our belts, we thought we’d offer some thoughts about several topics that might be helpful to reviewers and authors alike. So on the occasional Tuesday, we’ll post a short entry about some aspect of the journal submission, review, or publication process that we’ve had to address over the course of the last six months. While these issues are probably relevant to most journals, we only speak for ourselves and our expectations for AJPS.

Passing Verification with Flying Colors

For nearly five years now, AJPS has verified quantitative manuscripts. And last year, we verified our first qualitative paper as well. As most of you know, this doesn’t mean that we replicate authors’ analyses. It “simply” means that we reproduce – using the authors’ data, code, and/or interview transcripts – the results presented in the paper. Notice that simply is in quotes. That’s because most papers don’t pass verification by the Odum Institute in the first round. Sometimes the data set won’t open. Sometimes the computing clusters where the authors conducted the analyses can’t “talk” to the cluster where the analyses are being verified. Sometimes the code includes typos or other minor errors. Sometimes it’s all of the above. Regardless of the problem, though, when a paper can’t be verified, it goes back to the author for revision and resubmission. Multiple rounds of back and forth are, unfortunately, not uncommon.

Given that authors now conduct increasingly complex analyses that regularly rely on multiple data sets, we figured that this would be a good time to offer three helpful hints that can make the verification process less cumbersome and more efficient:

  1. Verify your own analyses first. Before uploading your data set and code to Dataverse, run it and see if you get the exact same results as you report in the paper. Sounds obvious, right? Well, it turns out that most authors actually don’t do this. But those who do have reported a relatively seamless verification process – they’ve caught glitches, typos, and bugs. If you can perform this task on a different computer than you typically use, even better. That increases the probability that the code will run when Odum begins the verification.
  2. Keep the code as slim as possible. After a paper has been verified, if you make any changes that involve the verified results, then the whole thing must go through the process again. Let’s say you want to modify a figure’s title and source note when you receive the page proofs. Well, if you generated the title and note in Stata or R and it’s part of the code, then the whole paper needs to go back to Odum. To avoid unnecessary delays, try to remove from the code anything that’s not part of the actual results or formatting of the figure itself. If you can do it in Word, take it out of the code.
  3. Talk to the IT person at your institution. If you know that your analyses have caused you any trouble or required somewhat unusual accommodations – like a super-computer or major technical assistance merging data sets – then prepare a document that summarizes how you solved these problems and the specifications of the computing environment you used. That short memo will go a long way helping Odum determine the best way to verify the analyses without having to troubleshoot all of the issues you already confronted.

We know that the verification process is clunky. But taking these three steps will undoubtedly make it a lot smoother and much faster. It’ll also make it that much easier when you want to verify someone else’s results.

Can Terrorism Abroad Influence Migration Attitudes at Home?

The forthcoming article “Can Terrorism Abroad Influence Migration Attitudes at Home” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12494) by Vincenzo Bove, Tobias Böhmelt  and Enzo Nussio is summarized by the authors below.

Can Terrorism Abroad Influence Attitudes About Migration at Home
Over the past few years, political leaders in Europe and elsewhere increasingly link the risk of terrorism to immigration. This includes moderate politicians in countries targeted by terrorism such as the German Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as leaders of states that are less frequently hit by terrorist attacks, such as the Polish president Andrzej Duda.  In this context, our article investigates the impact of terrorism on immigration attitudes across Europe. Specifically, we ask whether terrorist attacks can propagate migration concern from targeted countries to their neighbors.

Although terrorist attacks are rare events, and only a minority of countries are directly and frequently targeted by such violence, we show that all countries are indirectly exposed to attacks in their neighborhood. Moreover, previous studies overwhelmingly focus on the most sensationalist events, with large numbers of victims and unusual media coverage, although the majority of terrorist events is of smaller scale and receives less attention. We highlight that they can still shape public attention on immigration beyond national borders. Finally, existing evidence suggests that public opinion positively correlates with policy outputs. As such, politicians are likely to respond to citizens’ concerns through legislative actions, such as more restrictive immigration policies. One implication of our work is that it is of secondary importance whether the public is “right” about the link between terrorism and migration.

To address our research question, we use the Eurobarometer surveys to capture the salience of immigration from 2003 to 2017. We also compiled data on foreign states’ level of terrorism, which are reasonably exogenous as terrorism abroad is driven by factors that unlikely have a direct link with the timing and scope of the interviews.  We estimate spatial models, which allow us to investigate whether a more elevated concern with migration is observed in the geographic vicinity of the targeted country. Our analysis suggests that the proximity to terrorism, by stimulating emotional public responses, not only affects the salience of immigration within a country, but also diffuses across European states and intensifies immigration-salience attitudes in nearby states.

The “European migrant crisis” has created divisions within the EU and has challenged its commitment to hosting foreign-born individuals, including refugees from war-torn regions. As politicians often respond to public opinion through policy decisions, a poor understanding of what drives public sentiment, particularly the unsubstantiated fear of a migration-terrorism link, can lead to unnecessarily more stringent immigration policies. As all European citizens are exposed to terrorism, even when their country is neither directly targeted nor at imminent risk, our results suggest a more careful consideration of external factors and can help inform the current reforms to Europe’s asylum policy. Our findings are also relevant for other world regions and are one further step in the direction of gaining a better and more general understanding of what affects public opinion, domestic policies, and political reforms.

About the Authors: Tobias Böhmelt is Professor of Government, University of Essex, Colchester, Vincenzo Bove is Professor of Political Science, Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Warwick, and Enzo Nussio is Senior Researcher, Center for Security Studies, ETH Zürich. Their research “Can Terrorism Abroad Influence Migration Attitudes at Home?” (https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12494) is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science.


The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.