Anti-immigration attitudes do not stand up to the reality check
The reception of the more than one million refugees in Germany in 2015 and 2016 worked surprisingly well in the local districts where they settled. Nationally, Germany experienced a rise in xenophobic attitudes, violent conflict, and rising support for the right-wing populist AfD party. However, at the local district-level, rising refugees led to lowered concern with immigration. WZB research professor David Brady, Marco Giesselmann from the University of Zurich, and Tabea Naujoks from the Hertie School in Berlin gained this insight when evaluating data from the Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP) from 2009-2017.
More than 20,000 Germans were asked several times before, during, and after the strong increase in refugees in 2015 about their attitudes concerning immigration, social cohesion and support for far-right parties, among other topics. Across Germany, there was a clear increase in concern about immigration and social cohesion and more sympathy for extreme right-wing parties during this period. At the district level, however, the reverse relationship applies: high immigration rates go hand in hand with lower concerns about immigration and less support for extreme right-wing parties. In districts that experienced a greater number of refugees, there is also no evidence of rising concern about social cohesion, residential moves or a decreasing willingness to support the community by paying taxes. David Brady draws a clear lesson from this for future migration movements: “The German experience suggests that exclusionary beliefs can be reduced through contact. The more local encounters there are, the less effective the general discourse that makes refugees a threat. "
However, a second finding of the study must be mentioned: this mechanism cannot be found in districts with high unemployment. Rather, a high refugee share results in exclusionary beliefs and behaviors in such districts. The researchers conclude from this finding that a difficult economic situation is the ideal breeding ground for anti-migration attitudes. The policy implications are obvious: "It is essential that policymakers locate refugees in communities with good job opportunities in order to foster positive sentiments, inclusive behavior and social cohesion," says David Brady.
The study has been published as a WZB discussion paper: Marco Giesselmann, David Brady, Tabea Naujoks, The Social Consequences of the Increase in Refugees to Germany 2015-2016 (September 2021).