Refugees Unwelcome? Changes in the Public Acceptance of Immigrants and Refugees in Germany in the Course of Europe’s ‘Immigration Crisis’

Christian S. Czymara & Alexander W. Schmidt-Catran

APA citation: Czymara, C. S., & Schmidt-Catran, A. W. (2017). Refugees unwelcome? Changes in the public acceptance of immigrants and refugees in Germany in the course of Europe’s ‘immigration crisis’. European Sociological Review, 33(6), 735-751.


Based on an innovative design, combining a multi-factorial survey experiment with a longitudinal perspective, we examine changes in the public acceptance of immigrants in Germany from the beginning of the so-called ‘migration crisis’ to after the sexual assaults of New Year’s Eve (NYE) 2015/2016. In contrast to previous studies investigating similar research questions, our approach allows to differentiate changes along various immigrant characteristics. Derived from discussions making up the German immigration discourse during this time, we expect reduced acceptance especially of those immigrants who were explicitly connected to the salient events, like Muslims and the offenders of NYE. Most strikingly, we find that refugees were generally highly accepted and even more so in the second wave, whereas the acceptance of immigrants from Arab or African countries further decreased. Moreover, female respondents’ initial preference for male immigrants disappeared. Contrary to our expectations, we find no changes in the acceptance of Muslims. We conclude that (i) public opinion research is well advised to match the particular political and social context under investigation to a fitting outcome variable to adequately capture the dynamics of anti-immigrant sentiment and that (ii) the vividly discussed upper limits for refugees seem to be contrary to public demands according to our data.


  • Best Paper Award, Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences
  • Early Career Award (honorable mention), European Survey Research Association