Hostname: page-component-848d4c4894-p2v8j Total loading time: 0.001 Render date: 2024-05-26T18:33:38.928Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Can political speech foster tolerance of immigrants?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  15 July 2021

Petra Schleiter*
Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK;
Margit Tavits
Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, USA
Dalston Ward
Immigration Policy Lab, ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
*Corresponding author. Email:


Politicians frequently use political speech to foster hostility toward immigrants, a strategy that shapes political preferences and behavior and feeds the success of the populist right. Whether political speech can be used to foster tolerance of immigrants, however, remains unexplored. We identify three mechanisms by which political speech could increase tolerance: (1) stressing in-group conceptions that highlight commonalities with immigrants; (2) emphasizing inclusiveness as an in-group norm; and (3) providing information that counters anti-immigrant stereotypes. Using quotes from US politicians in two survey experiments, we find that pro-immigrant speech that stresses inclusive norms or counters negative stereotypes about immigrants leads to more tolerant attitudes (but not behavior) toward immigrants. These effects are small and detectable only in large samples.

Original Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2021. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the European Political Science Association

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Abou-Chadi, T and Krause, W (2020) The causal effect of radical right success on mainstream parties’ policy positions: a regression discontinuity approach. British Journal of Political Science 50(3), 829847.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Akkerman, T (2015) Immigration policy and electoral competition in western Europe: a fine-grained analysis of party positions over the past two decades. Party Politics 21, 5467.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Albertson, B and Gadarian, SK (2013) Who's afraid of immigration? The effects of pro- and anti-immigrant threatening ads among Latinos, African Americans and Whites. In Freeman, GP, Hansen, R and Leal, DL (eds), Immigration and Public Opinion in Liberal Democracies. New York: Routledge, pp. 286306.Google Scholar
Allport, GW (1954) The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.Google Scholar
Alonso, S and d. Fonseca, SC (2012) Immigration, left and right. Party Politics 18, 865884.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Azari, JR (2016) How the news media helped to nominate Trump. Political Communication 33, 677680.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Benček, D and Strasheim, J (2016) Refugees welcome? A dataset on anti-refugee violence in Germany. Research & Politics 3, 111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blinder, S (2015) Imagined immigration: the impact of different meanings of “immigrants” in public opinion and policy debates in Britain. Political Studies 63, 80100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blinder, S, Ford, R and Ivarsflaten, E (2013) The better angels of our nature: how the antiprejudice norm affects policy and party preferences in Great Britain and Germany. American Journal of Political Science 57, 841857.Google Scholar
Bobo, L and Zubrinsky, CL (1996) Attitudes on residential integration: perceived status differences, mere in-group preference, or racial prejudice? Social Forces 74, 883909.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Borgonovi, F (2012) The relationship between education and levels of trust and tolerance in Europe. The British Journal of Sociology 63, 146167.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Brader, T, Valentino, NA and Suhay, E (2008) What triggers public opposition to immigration? Anxiety, group cues, and immigration threat. American Journal of Political Science 52, 959978.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Broockman, D and Kalla, J (2016) Durably reducing transphobia: a field experiment on door-to-door canvassing. Science 352, 220224.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Burns, P and Gimpel, JG (2000) Economic insecurity, prejudicial stereotypes, and public opinion on immigration policy. Political Science Quarterly 115, 201225.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Citrin, J and Sides, J (2008) Immigration and the imagined community in Europe and the United States. Political Studies 56, 3356.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Citrin, J, Reingold, B and Green, DP (1990) American identity and the politics of ethnic change. Journal of Politics 52, 11241154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dancygier, RM (2010) Immigration and Conflict in Europe. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Devine, PG and Elliot, AJ (1995) Are racial stereotypes really fading? The Princeton trilogy revisited. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 21, 11391150.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Facchini, G, Margalit, Y and Nakata, H (2016) Countering public opposition to immigration: The impact of information campaigns. CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP11709. Available at SSRN: Scholar
Fielding, D (2018) Traditions of tolerance: the long-run persistence of regional variation in attitudes towards English immigrants. British Journal of Political Science 48, 167188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Finnegan, E, Oakhill, J and Garnham, A (2015) Counter-stereotypical pictures as a strategy for overcoming spontaneous gender stereotypes. Frontiers in Psychology 6, 1291.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Flores, RD (2018) Can elites shape public attitudes toward immigrants?: evidence from the 2016 US presidential election. Social Forces 96, 16491690.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ford, R, Goodwin, MJ and Cutts, D (2012) Strategic Eurosceptics and polite xenophobes: support for the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) in the 2009 European parliament elections. European Journal of Political Research 51, 204234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gaertner, SL and Dovidio, JF (2005) Understanding and addressing contemporary racism: from aversive racism to the common ingroup identity model. Journal of Social Issues 61, 615639.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Habyarimana, J, Humphreys, M, Posner, DN and Weinstein, JM (2007) Why does ethnic diversity undermine public goods provision? American Political Science Review 101, 709725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Harding, J, Proshansky, H, Kutner, B and Chein, I (1954) Prejudice and ethnic relations. In Lindzey, G (ed.), The Handbook of Social Psychology, vol. 2. Cambridge, MA: Addison-Wesley, pp. 10211061.Google Scholar
Haynes, C, Merolla, J and Ramakrishnan, SK (2016) Framing Immigrants: News Coverage, Public Opinion, and Policy. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
Henry, PJ and Sears, DO (2009) The crystallization of contemporary racial prejudice across the lifespan. Political Psychology 30, 569590.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Herda, D (2015) Beyond innumeracy: heuristic decision-making and qualitative misperceptions about immigrants in Finland. Ethnic and Racial Studies 38, 16271645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hewstone, M, Rubin, M and Willis, H (2002) Intergroup bias. Annual Review of Psychology 53, 575604.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Hogg, MA and Reid, SA (2006) Social identity, self-categorization, and the communication of group norms. Communication Theory 16, 730.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hopkins, DJ (2010) Politicized places: explaining where and when immigrants provoke local opposition. American Political Science Review 104, 4060.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hopkins, J, Sides, DJ and Citrin, J (2019) The muted consequences of correct information about immigration. The Journal of Politics 81, 315320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ivarsflaten, E (2005) Threatened by diversity: why restrictive asylum and immigration policies appeal to western Europeans. Journal of Elections, Public Opinion & Parties 15, 2145.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ivarsflaten, E (2008) What unites right-wing populists in western Europe? Re-examining grievance mobilization models in seven successful cases. Comparative Political Studies 41, 323.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kalkan, KO, Layman, GC and Uslaner, EM (2009) “Bands of others?” Attitudes toward Muslims in contemporary American society. The Journal of Politics 71, 847862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Katz, PA (1976) Towards the Elimination of Racism. Chapter The Acquisition of Racial Attitudes in Children. Elmsford, NY: Pergamon Press.Google Scholar
Kinder, DR and Sears, DO (1981) Prejudice and politics: symbolic racism versus racial threats to the good life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 40, 414431.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kukoleva, O, Preobrazhenskaya, A and Sidorova, O (2017) Media use habits: what, why, when, and how people read online. Available at: Accessed: 2019-07-01.Google Scholar
Lai, CK, Marini, M, Lehr, SA, Cerruti, C, Shin, J-EL, Joy-Gaba, JA, Ho, AK, Teachman, BA, Wojcik, SP, Koleva, SP, Frazier, RS, Heiphetz, L, Chen, EE, Turner, RN, Haidt, J, Kesebir, S, Hawkins, CB, Schaefer, HS, Rubichi, S, Sartori, G, Dial, CM, Sriram, N, Banaji, MR and Nosek, BA (2014) Reducing implicit racial preferences: I. A comparative investigation of 17 interventions. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143, 1765.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Lazarev, E and Sharma, K (2017) Brother or burden: an experiment on reducing prejudice toward Syrian refugees in Turkey. Political Science Research and Methods 5, 201219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lehmann, P and Zobel, M (2018) Positions and saliency of immigration in party manifestos: a novel dataset using crowd coding. European Journal of Political Research 57, 10561083.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
LeVeck, BL, Hughes, DA, Fowler, JH, Hafner-Burton, E and Victor, DG (2014) The role of self-interest in elite bargaining. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 111, 1853618541.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
McLaren, LM (2003) Anti-immigrant prejudice in Europe: contact, threat perception, and preferences for the exclusion of migrants. Social Forces 81, 909936.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Merolla, JL, Pantoja, AD, Cargile, IA and Mora, J (2013) From coverage to action: the immigration debate and its effects on participation. Political Research Quarterly 66, 322335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mudde, C (2013) Three decades of populist radical right parties in western Europe: so what? European Journal of Political Research 52, 119.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pager, D and Quillian, L (2005) Walking the talk? What employers say versus what they do. American Sociological Review 70, 355380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Paluck, EL and Green, DP (2009) Deference, dissent, and dispute resolution: an experimental intervention using mass media to change norms and behavior in Rwanda. American Political Science Review 103, 622644.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pérez, EO (2015) Xenophobic rhetoric and its political effects on immigrants and their co-ethnics. American Journal of Political Science 59, 549564.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Quillian, L (1995) Prejudice as a response to perceived group threat: population composition and anti-immigrant and racial prejudice in Europe. American Sociological Review 60, 586611.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Robinson, AL (2016) Nationalism and ethnic-based trust: evidence from an African border region. Comparative Political Studies 49, 18191854.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simonovits, G, Kezdi, G and Kardos, P (2018) Seeing the world through the other's eye: an online intervention reducing ethnic prejudice. American Political Science Review 112(1), 186193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Slothuus, R and De Vreese, CH (2010) Political parties, motivated reasoning, and issue framing effects. Journal of Politics 72, 630645.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stangor, C, Sechrist, GB and Jost, JT (2001) Changing racial beliefs by providing consensus information. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 27, 486496.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stolle, D and Harell, A (2013) Social capital and ethno-racial diversity: learning to trust in an immigrant society. Political Studies 61, 4266.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Taber, CS and Lodge, M (2006) Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs. American Journal of Political Science 50, 755769.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tajfel, H and Turner, JC (1979) An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In Austin, WG and Worchel, S (eds), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Montery, CA: Brooks/Cole, pp. 3347.Google Scholar
Talaska, CA, Fiske, ST and Chaiken, S (2008) Legitimating racial discrimination: emotions, not beliefs, best predict discrimination in a meta-analysis. Social Justice Research 21, 263296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tankard, ME and Paluck, EL (2016) Norm perception as a vehicle for social change. Social Issues and Policy Review 10, 181211.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Turner, JC and Reynolds, KJ (2012) Self-categorization theory. In Van Lange, PA, Kruglanski, AW and Higgins, ET (eds), Handbook of Theories of Social Psychology, vol. 2. Los Angeles, CA: Sage, pp. 399417.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tversky, A and Kahneman, D (1973) Availability: a heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology 5, 207232.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Voss, K, Silva, F and Bloemraad, I (2019) The limits of rights: claims-making on behalf of immigrants. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 129.Google Scholar
Ward, DG (2019) Public attitudes toward young immigrant men. American Political Science Review 113, 264269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Whitt, S and Wilson, RK (2007) The dictator game, fairness and ethnicity in postwar Bosnia. American Journal of Political Science 51, 655668.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wong, TK (2017) The Politics of Immigration: Partisanship, Demographic Change, and American National Identity. Oxford, UK and New York, NY: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wright, M (2011) Diversity and the imagined community: immigrant diversity and conceptions of national identity. Political Psychology 32, 837862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zaller, JR (1992) The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. Cambridge, UK and New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: PDF

Schleiter et al. supplementary material

Schleiter et al. supplementary material

Download Schleiter et al. supplementary material(PDF)
PDF 245 KB
Supplementary material: Link

Schleiter et al. Dataset