Political Elite Discourses Polarize Attitudes toward Immigration Along Ideological Lines. A comparative longitudinal analysis of Europe in the 21st century

Alexander W. Schmidt-Catran & Christian S. Czymara

APA citation: Schmidt-Catran, A. W., & Czymara, C. S. (2023). Political elite discourses polarize attitudes toward immigration along ideological lines. A comparative longitudinal analysis of Europe in the twenty-first century. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 49(1), 85-109.


Immigration is a hotly-debated topic in many countries around the world. We examine how immigration-related political elite discourses affect natives’ attitudes towards immigration and how these discourses contribute to polarization along political and socio-economic dimensions. Drawing upon longitudinal cross-national data from the European Social Survey over 18 years and a genuine within-country estimator for both country-level main effects and cross-level interactions, our results show that, controlling for actual immigration, anti-immigrant attitudes increase when political elites express more exclusionary sentiments towards immigration and decrease when political elites express more inclusionary sentiments. Deeper analyses reveal exclusionary political elite discourses primarily resonate with voters on the right, whereas the effects of inclusionary discourses do not vary with political orientation. We do not find any attitude polarization between lower- and highly-educated individuals. In sum, our results indicate that ideological and discursive aspects of inter-group conflict are more important than real-world conditions.

Media coverage

  • “Why integration monitoring matters and how to implement it effectively” (ReliefWeb)
  • “Building bridges: How to overcome polarisation” (blogs.lse.ac.uk)


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