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Does Exposure to the Refugee Crisis Make Natives More Hostile?



Although Europe has experienced unprecedented numbers of refugee arrivals in recent years, there exists almost no causal evidence regarding the impact of the refugee crisis on natives’ attitudes, policy preferences, and political engagement. We exploit a natural experiment in the Aegean Sea, where Greek islands close to the Turkish coast experienced a sudden and massive increase in refugee arrivals, while similar islands slightly farther away did not. Leveraging a targeted survey of 2,070 island residents and distance to Turkey as an instrument, we find that direct exposure to refugee arrivals induces sizable and lasting increases in natives’ hostility toward refugees, immigrants, and Muslim minorities; support for restrictive asylum and immigration policies; and political engagement to effect such exclusionary policies. Since refugees only passed through these islands, our findings challenge both standard economic and cultural explanations of anti-immigrant sentiment and show that mere exposure suffices in generating lasting increases in hostility.

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This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is unaltered and is properly cited. The written permission of Cambridge University Press must be obtained for commercial re-use or in order to create a derivative work.

Corresponding author

*Dominik Hangartner, Associate Professor, Center for Comparative and International Studies, ETH Zurich; Immigration Policy Lab, Stanford University and ETH Zurich; and Department of Government, London School of Economics,
Elias Dinas, Swiss Chair in Federalism, Democracy and International Governance, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies and Department of Social and Political Sciences, European University Institute; and Associate Professor, Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford,
Moritz Marbach, PostDoc, Center for Comparative and International Studies, ETH Zurich; and Immigration Policy Lab, Stanford University and ETH Zurich,
**Konstantinos Matakos, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Economy, King's College London,
††Dimitrios Xefteris, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, University of Cyprus,


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The survey was fielded by the Survey Unit of the University of Macedonia according to our sampling frame and in line with the ethics policy of the London School of Economics and Political Science for human subjects research. DH, ED, MM, KM, and DX conceived and designed the research; ED, DH, and KM designed the survey; ED, KM, MM, DX, and DH helped with data collection; MM and DH performed statistical analyses; and DH, MM, KM, and ED wrote the manuscript. We thank Alexandra Dufresne, Marc Helbling, Dan Hopkins, and David Laitin for detailed comments. This paper benefited from the questions and suggestions from numerous seminar and conference participants. The usual disclaimer applies. ED and KM acknowledge financial support from the British Academy for a Small Leverhulme Grant (project number CTR00340) and DH support from the Leverhulme Trust. Replication files are available at the American Political Science Review Dataverse:



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Does Exposure to the Refugee Crisis Make Natives More Hostile?



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