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Title: Attitudes to immigration in times of crisis: the influence of austerity, cuts, and media attention
Authors: Bray, Kerry
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: This thesis focuses on the role that government policy and media attention play in public perceptions of real or perceived threats from immigration. I present three empirical chapters which provide significant original contributions to the literature on the external influences over individual attitudes to immigration and hostility toward foreigners or minorities. This literature and the contribution of this thesis is explored in chapter two. Chapter three exploits the controversial ‘Hartz IV’ unemployment benefit reform in Germany in 2005 as a natural experiment for the impact of personal financial shocks on attitudes to immigration. Difference-in-differences analysis using individual-level panel survey data and fixed effects provides novel causal evidence that personal financial shocks in the form of a cut in benefit payments can lead to short-term increases in individual concerns about immigration. These results provide support for economic self-interest theories of attitudes to immigration, specifically the welfare strain hypothesis, where poorer natives believe immigrants will reduce their access to benefits. In chapter four, I examine the relationship between the UK austerity programme introduced in 2013 and hate crimes motivated by race or religion. I estimate the causal impact of greater losses from benefit reforms introduced in April 2013 in a local area on the level of racially or religiously motivated (RRM) crimes recorded by the police. Using a difference-in-differences method with continuously varying treatment intensity consisting of the estimated total loss (£) per working age adult from the reforms in each area and including fixed effects I show evidence that austerity had a positive causal influence on rising RRM hate crime. The effects are primarily apparent for ‘public fear, alarm or distress’ offences, while no such effect is found for non-hate related offences. These findings suggest that financial shocks at the community level can increase hostility toward minority groups and support sociotropic theories of the impact of increased scarcity of resources on intergroup conflict, prejudice, and hate crime. Chapter five explores how a genuine migration crisis may alter the relationship between media salience and attitudes to immigration. Using individual-level panel survey data and original data on the salience of immigration in the German media on each day of 2015 collected using Python web scraping techniques and Lexis Nexis records, I estimate a respondent’s exposure to immigration news using their interview date. Linear Probability iv Model estimates show a clear difference in the significance of levels of media attention on immigration concerns before and during the main peak of the migrant crisis. Across the full period of interview dates (March to October) and when focusing on a period before the peak of the crisis (April to May), media salience appears to have a positive effect on higher concerns about immigration in line with the literature. However when considering interviews that took place within the main rise and peak of the migrant crisis (June to September), I find that the largest rises in media salience in 2015 had no significant impact on increases in immigration concerns in the same period. These findings suggest that while the influence of media did increase concerns in 2015, it did not play a causal role in rises in concerns during the peak of the migrant crisis, and may have been crowded out by exposure to the crisis itself, or cumulative exposure to news about the migrant crisis. This thesis provides novel causal evidence of how reactions to economic and demographic crises affect individual attitudes to immigration. The findings presented in the three empirical chapters extend the literature on the influence of economic and demographic conditions on attitudes to immigration by considering their indirect impact through government policy and media reactions.
Description: Ph. D. Thesis.
Appears in Collections:Newcastle University Business School

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