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date: 23 April 2024

Xenophobia and Anti-Immigrant Politicsfree

Xenophobia and Anti-Immigrant Politicsfree

  • Lars RensmannLars RensmannCentre of International Relations Research, University of Groningen
  •  and Jennifer MillerJennifer MillerDepartment of Political Science, University of Michigan


The emergence of widespread xenophobia and anti-immigrant politics has raised the following questions: What are the explanatory factors and cultural conditions for the relative salience of xenophobic attitudes in the current era—and why is there a varying demand in different countries? Which independent variables on the supply side explain the emergence and the diverging success or failure of “anti-immigrant parties” as well as variations of mainstream anti-immigrant discourses and campaigns in electoral politics? What causal mechanisms can be found between contextual, structural, or agency-related factors and anti-immigrant party politics, and what do we know about their emergence and their dynamics in political processes? These questions are addressed by demand-side, supply-side, as well as mixed models. Demand-side approaches focus on the conditions that generate certain anti-immigrant attitudes and policy preferences in the electorate, on both the individual and the societal level, as key explanatory variables for anti-immigrant policies. Supply-side approaches turn to the role of political agency: They explain the salience and variation of anti-immigrant politics mainly by the performance of parties which mobilize, organize, and (as “agenda setters”) generate them. Mixed models include both sets of explanatory variables and a “third” set of institutional and discursive factors, such as electoral rules, party competition, and ideological spaces in electoral marketplaces.


  • Identity

Introduction: Anti-Immigrant Politics in the Age of Globalization

This entry explores the relationship between xenophobia and anti-immigrant politics, and the conditions thereof. While putting emphasis on the current state of research and implications in the global age, it looks at both historical and contemporary studies. Taking the emergence and salience of anti-immigrant politics as its major dependent variables, the goal of this study is twofold: On the one hand, it intends to provide a comprehensive, historically informed overview on the development and state of social-scientific research on xenophobia and anti-immigrant politics. On the other hand, it critically scrutinizes empirical findings on origins and independent variables that cause or influence anti-immigrant politics, in order to examine what we know and what we need to know in light of future research tasks in a changing, globalized political environment.

Anti-immigrant politics have been around much longer than the past few decades. Much of nineteenth-century Europe, for instance, was driven by pan-nationalist and ethnic-nationalist ideologies and claims to racial or cultural superiority. This affected both ethnic minorities and new immigrants, who were constructed and perceived as “others.” Immigrants, as well as ethnic minorities, were often excluded from public life, exposed to discrimination, turned into second-class citizens, or expelled. Despite historical fluctuations, xenophobic sentiments against foreigners and resentments against ethnic “others” in many ways shaped the politics of the first half of the twentieth century.

Yet, while for decades immigration seemed to be a nonissue in many societies, political mobilizations against ethnic minorities and new immigrants have reentered public spheres. Since the mid-1980s, especially immigration has once again become a salient issue among voters and parties almost on a global scale. This also affects established liberal democracies, in which the legacy of the racist policies of Nazism had increasingly served as a “negative matrix” for post–World War II policy making on immigration and asylum (Joppke 1999). Attacked by some parties as “social parasites,” immigrants have been blamed for virtually anything from the loss of “identity” to the loss of workplaces or new global diseases – albeit at times in coded ways. The increasing relevance of anti-immigrant politics is especially reflected by electoral breakthroughs of radical right and anti-immigrant parties in about half of the world’s larger postindustrial democracies (Kitschelt 2007). Although there are, to be sure, significant national variations that call for country-specific explanations, today’s relative salience of the (anti-)immigration issue is also noticeable in countries where immigration is a fairly new phenomenon, such as former emigrant countries like Italy, Spain, Turkey, or Ireland, or where immigration is still largely insignificant, such as South Africa, Hungary, or India.

While any direct causal link appears dubious, the resurgence of anti-immigrant and exclusive identity politics on a global scale since the mid-1980s corresponds with new transnational migration and multicultural diversifications in the age of postindustrial globalization – or the perceived prospect and fear thereof. Global survey data display an overall long-term rise of liberal-cosmopolitan and culturally inclusive self-expression values even beyond liberal democracies (Inglehart and Welzel 2005). Yet they also reveal that there are relevant segments of international demoi opposing those values while supporting strict restrictions on immigration and exclusivist or ethnic forms of political membership, though there are significant national variations in xenophobia and anti-immigrant attitudes. Those variations are even higher regarding the electoral support and relevance of political parties with a distinctly anti-immigrant and ethnonationalist platform (Minkenberg 2001; Ignazi 2003; Rensmann 2003). For example, in post-Communist Eastern Europe, immigration has hardly been politicized yet, and extreme-right parties had overall rather poor electoral performances.

The generally diagnosed widespread rise of anti-immigrant politics in the global age poses several puzzles: What are the explanatory factors and cultural conditions for the relative salience of xenophobic attitudes in the current era – and why is there a varying demand in different countries? Which independent variables on the supply side explain the emergence and the diverging success or failure of “anti-immigrant parties” (van der Brug et al. 2000) as well as variations of mainstream anti-immigrant discourses and campaigns in electoral politics? Finally, what causal mechanisms – if any – can be found between contextual, structural, or agency-related factors and anti-immigrant party politics, and what do we know about their emergence and their dynamics in political processes?

Against the background of initial conceptual clarifications and assessments of public opinion on immigration in historical perspective, this essay discusses explanations to the aforementioned questions in three major steps: It examines demand-side, supply-side, as well as mixed models to explain the breakthroughs and success of such politics, as well as cross-national variation. Demand-side approaches focus on the conditions that generate certain anti-immigrant attitudes and policy preferences in the electorate, on both the individual and the societal level, as key explanatory variables for anti-immigrant policies. Supply-side approaches turn to the role of political agency: They explain the salience – and variation – of anti-immigrant politics mainly by the performance of parties which mobilize, organize, and (as “agenda setters”) generate them. Mixed models include both sets of explanatory variables and a “third” set of institutional and discursive factors, such as electoral rules, party competition, and ideological spaces in electoral marketplaces. In a fourth step, the validity of these findings and models is evaluated in order to establish a limited set of generalizable hypotheses to be tested in future comparative research. The reconstruction of the theoretical approaches and comparative findings points, finally, to more complex research designs that take specific sociocultural conditions and political processes into account.

Conceptual Framework

Before we examine various explanations to the success of anti-immigrant politics, some conceptual clarifications are necessary. This essay is primarily interested in xenophobia (hostility directed toward foreigners) as well as anti-immigrant attitudes and particularly anti-immigrant politics (i.e., political behavior directed against new or recent immigrants). While these terms frame this study, other concepts such as ethnic intolerance, cultural exclusivism, antiforeigner prejudice, or ethnocentrism will also play a significant role. As Paul Sniderman et al. (2002) show, xenophobia is not necessarily equivalent to ethnic intolerance, though these phenomena are also interrelated. For instance, animosity by urban blacks against new immigrant workers may be primarily reflective of labor competition and value conflicts – without ethnic intolerance against settled immigrants. Anti-immigrant politics in multiethnic, immigrant-receiving societies may reflect different demand-side dimensions compared to those in ethnically homogeneous societies, where ethnic intolerance and “anti-immigration” largely overlap.

While xenophobia provides an ideal term, the theories reviewed often employ other, yet similar, terms. Frequently, these theories utilize ethnocentrism, encompassing ingroup-outgroup polarization of hostility and the self-centered scaling of all values, and forms of prejudice (hostility directed at a specific group) as dependent variables (Levine and Campbell 1972; Kinder 2003). The emphasis on these constructs is unsurprising given the class of conflicts immigration creates. As political scientists Brader, Valentino, and Suhay state when describing immigration’s power as a political issue in the United States, immigration “generates conflict between groups – citizens versus noncitizens, English speakers versus foreign language speakers, whites versus nonwhites” (2008:960). These studies often utilize theories explaining group-oriented conflict broadly defined when attempting to explain anti-immigrant affect.

However, various relevant studies that provide important explanatory models to understand the relevance of anti-immigrant politics will employ different terminologies and definitions. Consequently, this entry reviews theories that offer constructs beyond xenophobia and anti-immigrant attitudes to explain why a society is more receptive to anti-immigrant politics and appeals. Even more so, this applies to supply-side concepts, that is, anti-immigrant political actors and parties (in different studies conceived as extreme right, radical right populist, ethnonationalist parties, or national-populist). While radical right parties are not necessarily equivalent to anti-immigrant parties and even the notion of a new anti-immigrant “party family” (van der Brug et al. 2000; Bjorklund and Andersen 2002) is contested, these concepts strongly overlap. Many authors apply them to the same subjects of study, use them interchangeably, or accept such usage (Kitschelt 2007; van der Brug and Fennema 2007). In the case of such parties, then, most authors agree that “the most important common denominator of these parties [is] their anti-immigrant stance and their advocacy of an ethnocultural nation” (Giugni and Koopmans 2007:488). Still, it is important to note that there are some anti-immigrant parties with a leftist or centrist economic policy outlook. The variety of concepts in different research notwithstanding, this entry standardizes their terminological use where possible and conceptually differentiates where necessary.

For the purpose of this entry, then, anti-immigrant parties are broadly defined as either parties with a single-issue focus on anti-immigration or parties for which anti-immigration is one among other core programmatic features (Mudde 1999). It seems “futile to start with a narrow, precise definition of the ideological appeals that define the set of parties whose electoral success […] is the object of explanation”; instead, it makes sense to start with a “very broad and inclusive definition, but then to use more precise ideological appeals of the party leaders and activists as explanatory variables” (Kitschelt 2007:1178). In turn, the emergence of political players “successfully” engaging in anti-immigrant politics, the dependent variable of this entry, is not restricted to anti-immigrant parties but includes mainstream parties invoking anti-immigrant policies.

A New Wave of Global Resentment? Assessing Public Opinion on Immigration in Historical Perspective

Although xenophobia is often seen as a common feature of human societies (Hjerm 1998), several scholars note that immigration has only recently become a salient issue in both advanced and developing countries, suggesting a new wave of politicized opposition to immigration and ethnic diversification on a global level (Fetzer 2000). Figure 1 displays a cross-national distribution of worldwide opinion regarding immigration policies. Encompassing both OECD and non-OECD countries, respondents are fairly uniform in their opposition to allowing anyone to enter without restrictions. Although there is variation on the degree of inclusiveness, most respondents say that the government should place strict limits on immigration or only allow immigration as long as jobs are available. As Figure 1 shows, Denmark, France, Great Britain, the United States, Belgium, and Germany all have especially high percentages of respondents who believe that the government ought to place strict limits on the number of entrants; countries such as India, Turkey, and Iran have large portions opposing any immigration.

While postwar migration is remarkable for its unprecedented size, historians are right to point out that large-scale movement of people, and concurrent waves of xenophobia, are not new (Horowitz and Noiriel 1992; Lucassen et al. 2006). For instance, Lucassen et al. (2006) meticulously tracks opposition to immigrants in nineteenth-century Britain, Germany, and France. In Germany, for instance, Polish migrants were the targets of physical violence by natives. While most Western European countries do not claim to be countries of immigration, xenophobia was rife among those that do, such as the United States. Specifically, the United States experienced peaks in anti-immigrant sentiment in the 1850s, the 1890s, and what is called the “tribal twenties” (Higham 1968).

Figure 1 Worldwide Opinion on Immigration Policy

Source: World Values Survey (2005). Respondents were asked, “How about people from other countries coming here to work. Which one of the following do you think the government should do?” (Read out and code the answer): (1) Let anyone come who wants to, (2) let people come as long as jobs are available, (3) place strict limits on the number of foreigners who can come here, or (4) prohibit people coming here from other countries.

In this historical context, Nancy Foner (2005) has furthermore shown how hereby “race has been socially constructed among immigrants in different eras.” Based on a comparatively situated study over time, Foner shows that “changeable perceptions” of race as well as other ingroup-outgroup distinctions changed in reflection and as a result of different immigration waves, especially in the US as an immigrant-receiving society (200511f). Given historical waves and the current relevance of xenophobic attitudes, what conditions make a society or a person receptive to anti-immigrant appeals?

Theorizing Xenophobic and Anti-Immigrant Demands

This section examines these accounts of the demand for anti-immigrant politics. Demand-side explanations focus on the conditions of attitudinal structures and the formation of values, policy preferences, and cleavages, which serve as key explanatory variables for the emergence or salience of anti-immigrant parties and politics. Theories accounting for the demand side of anti-immigrant politics consider factors operating at the individual as well as the aggregate societal level. Incorporating “classical” and most recent studies, the section analyzes prevalent explanations of the demand for anti-immigrant politics, beginning with macrolevel theories, and followed by microlevel theories.

Unsurprisingly, scholars have produced a litany of theories to explain public opinion on immigration and its independent variables. These theories have then been classified to evaluate their relative merits (Fetzer 2000; Norris 2005). Broadly speaking, theories invoke either macrolevel or microlevel variables as the prime causes of xenophobic or anti-immigrant attitudes. Macrolevel explanations invoke processes that occur at the societal level, while microlevel ones focus on individual-level attributes leading to anti-immigrant affect. Not all theories fall neatly into these categories; macrolevel explanations include theories that rely primarily on intergroup relations – they make assumptions about individual behavior while their analytic leverage depends on group behavior – whereas microlevel theories emphasize causes for individual attitudes.

Macrolevel Explanations

One of the more prevalent macrolevel theories to explain widespread anti-immigrant sentiment is modernization theory. This line of theorizing is indebted to the seminal works of Bell (1955) and Lipset (1960), who were concerned with explaining the rise of fascism. Both identify the petit bourgeoisie, small entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, merchants, and self-employed artisans, as the bedrock of support for fascism. Their common fate as the losers of industrialization united these otherwise disparate groups. Specifically, they all controlled only a modest reserve of capital, and lacked job security. The argument’s power does not rest on socioeconomic status as such but on notions of status loss, or subjective deprivation linked to modernization processes. While the petit bourgeoisie were vulnerable to the caprices of the market, Lipset (1960) and Bell (1955) underline that the real source of petit bourgeoisie resentment stemmed from the loss of social status.

Today this approach appears in many guises, as modernization has been linked to processes of postindustrialization, international integration, and the emergence of the “global risk society” (Beck 2006). Namely, economic transformations directly or indirectly lead to the rise of xenophobic attitudes, with modernization’s losers and the unemployed holding the most stridently anti-immigrant attitudes (e.g., Betz 1994; Swank and Betz 2003; Givens 2005). The scholars cited in the previous sentence posit that it is among blue-collar workers and small-business owners that the demand for anti-immigrant politics is strongest.

Recent works also emphasize this hypothesized relation between status loss and xenophobic demands, which scholars call the sociocultural effect of economic transformation. Betz (1994) suggests that social individualization and fragmentation have eroded the mass membership of traditional collective organizations, social networks, and mass movements that used to mobilize working-class communities. It is these new socially disadvantaged groups, Betz suggests, who are most prone to support cultural protectionism and to blame immigrants and ethnic minorities for deteriorating conditions, namely, declining social security or economic prosperity.

This perspective’s two principal weaknesses are its inability to account for temporal or spatial variation in the rise of anti-immigrant politics and its failure to identify the explicit mechanisms linking large-scale changes to individual behavior. With regard to the former, survey data show that not all “losers” of modernization hold xenophobic attitudes or oppose immigration (Mudde 2007). In fact, in many countries neither xenophobic attitudes nor support for anti-immigrant parties consistently correlates with economic status over time (van der Brug et al. 2000; Norris 2005:134ff). Moreover, large-scale economic changes have marked developed countries through the postwar era; however, anti-immigrant politics have had varying success across time and space.

Another prevalent macrolevel theory posits that “economic crises” raise levels of xenophobia. Both historical and contemporary works hypothesize that economic crises are accompanied by heightened xenophobia among the populace (e.g., Weyland 1999; Zimmerman 2003). This theory is lacking for two reasons. First, economic crisis is a nebulous concept. The lack of conceptual refinement leads to post hoc rationalizations: An economic crisis is identified as such only when there is a rise in xenophobia. Second, empirical analyses have shown mixed support (e.g., Jackman and Volpert 1996; Weyland 1999). In her analysis of costs and benefits in the context of spatial concentration, Jeanette Money (1999) claims that local support for and opposition to immigration may be contingent upon economic conditions, in addition to the numbers of foreigners entering the country and their access to the resources of the welfare state. Yet, whether such local pressures translate into national policies depends on whether the local constituencies are critical to maintaining or gaining a national electoral majority.

One reason for the overall lack of empirical support for the economic crisis is the presence of mediating variables. For instance, the level of welfare state provisions may buffer the effect of economic downturns. Swank and Betz (2003) argue that the structure of national institutions may mitigate the effects of postindustrialization on lower-skilled workers. Universal welfare states depress the reservoir of xenophobic sentiments in the face of increased trade, capital mobility, and immigration of workers. Conversely, the more limited protection of support offered by liberal and corporatist welfare states does not protect these vulnerable classes to the same extent as the universal welfare state. Support for xenophobic politics, it is demonstrated, is higher in these states than in their universal welfare counterparts (Swank and Betz 2003). This study, limited to Western Europe, indicates a need for greater analytic precision in identifying which aspects of economic fluctuations increase support for anti-immigrant politics on the demand side, and how institutional and sociological features interact with these economic fluctuations.

Other economic-based theories further qualify the oft-hypothesized causal link between economic status and anti-immigrant sentiments. Terry Givens (2005) finds that socioeconomic variables do play a role (i.e., objective economic factors can have some effect on anti-immigrant attitudes and voting). For example, high numbers of immigrants and unemployed workers can be conducive to support for extreme-right anti-immigrant parties. But this analysis needs to be qualified because the relationship is not generalizable, and as Givens concedes, it cannot explain cause and effect, nor can it predict individual-level behavior. However, the role of both objective and subjective socioeconomic status and status loss in shaping xenophobic attitudes or anti-immigrant political behavior remains controversial. Attitudes toward the economy appear to positively correlate more significantly with xenophobia than actual economic status. In a five-country comparative study among European countries on attitudes of ethnic intolerance, of nationalism, and toward capitalism, Hilde Weiss (2003) confirms that social status as such has no effect whatsoever on ethnic tolerance. Yet in her models, modernization (in the sense of overcoming nationalist ties) and ethnic intolerance primarily depend on the attitude toward the new economic system. Anticapitalist sentiments held by the lower classes have a considerable impact on nationalist attitudes, making them “susceptible to politics that promises economic intervention in combination with nationalist appeals and ethnic intolerance” (Weiss 2003:395f). This empirical study supports the assumption that xenophobia, nationalism, and socioeconomic protectionism (also coined welfare chauvinism) correlate as an attitude complex among relevant segments of the populace in new and in established democracies. In addition, John Ishiyama (2004) shows that economic and cultural globalization as such – in “objective” terms of economic or cultural deprivation – does not produce ethnic nationalism or anti-immigrant attitudes. Rather, the subjective or cultural perception and processing of globalization as a threat positively correlate with ethnic nationalism and anti-immigrant views (Ishiyama 2004:18ff). Furthermore, in her recent cross-national, demand-side-oriented study on the growth of anti-immigrant parties in 14 West European nations, Rachel Gibson shows that culturally rooted prejudice constitutes a greater force than does economic opposition to the presence of immigrants (Gibson 2002).

It is against the backdrop of Lipset and Rokkan’s (1967) cleavage theory, as well as postindustrial economic restructuring and the diagnosis of large-scale value change, that modernization theorists attempt to link the macro to the micro – and in fact link economic and cultural, value-based explanations. Students of European politics have argued that political conflict is based upon long-standing social divisions that emerged from national and industrial revolutions; these decisive changes of economic conditions induced value change from traditional to material values as well as cleavages around sociostructural positions and economic (state-interventionist or market) allocation. According to the proponents of contemporary modernization theories, these cleavages are no longer salient. Rather, economic restructuring has injected a new dimension of conflict or imbued a new meaning to the old cleavages. For instance, scholars in the sociological vein emphasize that postindustrialism has given rise to postmaterialist values, such as freedom, participation, self-expression, and sociocultural pluralism across the globe (Inglehart 1984; Inglehart and Welzel 2005). Here the economy functions as the long-term macrolevel key explanatory variable. In turn, existential economic insecurity, it is suggested, increases xenophobia and anti-immigrant attitudes.

While original work on postmaterial values emphasized the rise of a new libertarian left, others have drawn attention to the “authoritarian” value-based reactions of those who oppose this sociocultural modernization. This consequence of leftist mobilization is what Ignazi characterizes as a “silent counter-revolution” (1992), which reflects a changing conflict axis in postindustrial societies away from the traditional left-right cleavage based on socioeconomic views. The postmaterial values diagnosed by Inglehart were originally construed as producing a “silent revolution,” whereby people with these values supported left-liberal parties, now increasingly representing economically redistributive and especially culturally inclusive and thus pro-immigrant values (Inglehart 1984; Kitschelt 1994). Ignazi (1992) argues that this “counterrevolution” resulted in a new political emphasis of such cultural issues as authority, patriotism, exclusive identity, the role of the family, and traditional moral values. Michael Minkenberg adds that new anti-immigrant parties express “a reaction against fundamental change in culture and values” and do “not reflect old cleavages expressed in class and partisan lines, but a new cleavage based on value change” (1992:58). Thus, anti-immigration sentiments are part of a broader set of values, reminiscent of the ideology-ethnocentrism link in Adorno et al.’s The Authoritarian Personality (1950; see also Cunningham et al. 2004).

Although Ignazi and Minkenberg also take several other factors into account, including a set of supply-side factors (see below), these primarily demand-side-based macro theories still remain vague on how macro processes are linked to individual-level behavior and vice versa. However, the notion of a newly configured, polarized ideological space emerging against the background of postmaterial value change provides an important theoretical framework for the understanding of contemporary anti-immigrant politics. The cleavage between cultural modernization and cosmopolitanism, on one hand, and remobilized beliefs in cultural homogeneity and protectionism against immigration (Kaldor 1997), on the other, seems to reflect a shifted conflict axis along which the discourse of immigration and anti-immigrant politics take shape.

Microlevel Explanations

One of the prevalent theories explaining variation in micro- or individual-level support for anti-immigrant affect is the economic self-interest theory. Essentially, individuals who perceive that they will be financially harmed by immigration, such as the lesser educated or those in an economically vulnerable position, are more likely to be xenophobic (e.g., Espenshade and Hempstead 1996; Jackman and Volpert 1996; Citrin et al. 1997; Golder 2003) and thus also opposed to immigration. The question becomes whether the mechanism driving these attitudes is actual economic threat or the perception of threat. Citrin et al. (1997) support the regularly validated hypothesis that perceived economic threat has a stronger effect on anti-immigrant sentiments than actual economic threat. Perceived threat is operationalized by Quillian (1995) as a function of the size of the subordinate group and economic circumstances in 12 countries in Europe. Edna Bonanich’s (1972) theory of the split labor market is used to explain ethnic antagonism, a broad term encompassing beliefs to institutions. This theory emphasizes the role of economic competition in the development of antagonism. It explicitly concerns exclusion movements, such as the exclusion of certain immigrants from entering the country. Namely, a source of conflict arises when there is a large differential in the price of labor for the same occupation or work. These theories are similar to those posed by modernization theories, although they are more dynamic in that they seek to explain temporal as well as spatial fluctuations in public attitudes toward immigrants.

Contact theory, in contrast, focuses not on individual economic wellbeing, but on the distribution of immigrants in one’s neighborhood or region. The intellectual forebear of this reasoning is Gordon Allport’s theory of prejudice (1954/1979). Allport distinguishes between two types of contact: true acquaintances and casual contact. The two wield opposite effects, with true acquaintances decreasing prejudice and casual contact increasing it. In examining vote patterns for the French extreme-right anti-immigrant party Front National, Perrineau (1985) found that there was no correlation between the vote and the percentage of immigrants in a given precinct; however, there was a strong correlation for the vote share and the proportion of immigrants in the larger administrative unit, the département. Other work corroborates these findings, showing that social exposure to immigrants, namely, the establishment of friendships bridging groups, is the most consistent and important predictor of attitudes toward immigrants (Hayes and Dowds 2006), with different kinds of interactions having different impacts.

Other microlevel theories draw upon psychological predispositions to explain nationalism, xenophobia, and the relationship between the two. Consequently, conceptions of national identity and the degree of national pride are said to cause xenophobic attitudes (Hjerm 1998; Maddens et al. 2000). Sniderman and Hagendoorn (2007) argue that to the extent that members of the majority attach importance to their national identity, the more likely they will be to perceive their identity to be threatened and reject immigrants as threatening. In microlevel approaches, national identity is not operationalized as a dominant collective self-understanding and cultural context factor (Minkenberg 2003) but as an individual attitudinal dimension, and can thus vary between individuals of the same nation (Gellner 1983; MacCormick 1996). Hjerm distinguishes among three types of national identity: multiple national identities, when one has a weak sense of national identity; civic national identity, when one bases her identity on civic factors; and ethnic national identity, which is predicated on ethnic factors. Using the European Social Survey, Hjerm finds that those holding strong ethnic-nationalist conceptions of national identity are more likely to be at risk for xenophobic attitudes (1998). These xenophobic attitudes also increase as national pride increases.

These empirical findings about exclusive or ethnic national identification and anti-immigrant attitudes are echoed across the literature. They are also confirmed by macrolevel approaches employing differentiations between dominantly ethnic or civic national self-understandings and the cultural salience of nationalism (Koopmans and Statham 1999; Minkenberg 2003). However, few studies have yet tested for the effect of national identity in different economic environments. The relative weight of national pride and national identity may vary when economic threats, or existential insecurities, are present. Furthermore, a rigid distinction between state and ethnic nationalism faces both theoretical and empirical problems (Rensmann 2003:108–11). Yet this does not render the tested correlation between exclusive nationalism and increased xenophobia false.

Another school of thought emphasizes the “cultural affinity” incoming immigrants have with the receiving society. Essentially, the argument is that cultural and ethnic ties to immigrants promote pro-immigrant attitudes and support for more open immigration policies (Espenshade and Calhoun 1993). Huntington’s “clash of civilization” theory (1996) predicts that within a given state, political divisions will appear along cultural lines; thus, culturally divergent “North African immigration to France […] generates hostility among Frenchmen” along with increased receptivity to immigration by culturally affine European Catholic Poles. Emory Bogardus expounded on this theory in his 1928 book Immigration and Race Attitudes.

The empirical support for this explanation is mixed, and conceptually this theory lends itself to ad hoc explanations. In a historical analysis of public attitudes toward immigration in France, Germany, and the United States, Fetzer finds support for this theory, stating that natives “warmly welcomed immigrant groups whose culture approximated the traditions of the dominant groups of natives in each country” (2000:141). Yet other work demonstrates that descendants of immigrants welcomed their kin, but not others. In the United States, the English did not welcome the Irish and Germans, while the latter did not support the entry of Italians (Simon 1985). Under Huntington’s model, the English and Germans are culturally similar, and thus the former would embrace the latter. The counterargument would be that at the time, these groups were very different and perceived as culturally distinct. This reasoning, however, begs the question of when and how the cultural argument truly holds. De la Garza et al. (1993) provide more disconfirming evidence. They show that feelings of cultural affinity for Mexican immigrants are not strong among Mexican Americans and that difference between Latinos and Anglos in the US is a function of their location in American society, not a product of cultural differences.

Fetzer’s marginality theory takes a similar direction. In its “most universal form,” it states that “all else held equal – experiencing marginality or oppression oneself creates sympathy for other marginalized or oppressed groups, even if they do not belong to one’s own group” (Fetzer 2000). Inferences from this theory include women being more sympathetic to immigrants because of their historically marginalized position in society. Earlier, Allport (1954/1979) posited a similar model, arguing that there is solidarity among the marginalized. Fetzer finds empirical support for the marginality thesis (2000), but cautions that marginality effects occur only where individuals believe themselves to be marginalized. This caveat begs the question of when this effect actually takes place, as the theory predicts the marginality effect happens only after holding all else constant and given that the individual in question is part of a group that is socialized in feeling marginalized. For instance, if marginalization were correlated with lower income, then economic self-interest theories would predict that members of the marginalized groups would perceive immigrants as competition for resources.

The theory of status politics, or group position theory, also utilizes the mechanism of group solidarity, but places emphasis on solidarity among “cultural insiders” (Fetzer 2000:11). Early work by Herbert Blumer (1958) developed a group position theory of prejudice that placed emphasis on a commitment to a relative status positioning of groups in a racialized status order. Gusfield (1963) portrays the distribution of prestige as being based on characteristic ways of life. This, Gusfield argues, leads to various groups lobbying the government to take actions that will symbolically endorse their cultural values over those of competitors. Fetzer offers an example: “Feeling culturally threatened by multiculturalism and increasing non-European immigration, the WASPs react by fighting for such a symbolic endorsement of their culture as having English declared the ‘official language’ of the state or country” (2000:12). While feelings of group threat may lead to outgroup aversion, the theory fails to provide the necessary conditions for feelings of superiority translating to collective action aimed at enforcing group positioning.

In sum, there are limited generalizable demand-side explanations for the salience and cross-national variations of xenophobia and the rise of anti-immigrant politics. Few approaches offer thoroughly tested links between the micro and the macro level. A promising way to address this problem of links between individual attitudes and social context would be increased research on the meso level (i.e., local organizations like the school, family, or neighborhood through which people acquire norms) (Mudde 2007:218). Moreover, most comparative research data are limited to liberal democracies. Yet available global survey data at least point to the validity of refined modernization and cleavage theories, combined with more dynamic explanations of temporal and spatial variations. Independent demand-side variables for anti-immigrant sentiments include economic perceptions of status loss threats (rather than actual economic status), cultural protectionism and fear of sociocultural globalization and modernization, and strong nationalism or a strong sense of ethnic identity; in turn, closer relations to immigrants reduce xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments. Xenophobia is hereby the main predictor of voting for extreme-right and other anti-immigrant parties (Norris 2005).

The Supply Side: Examining the Rise of Anti-Immigrant Parties and Mobilizations

Taking the limitations of demand-side explanations with regard to the rising importance of anti-immigrant politics (as well as cross-country variations thereof) into account, supply-side approaches focus on agents and actual mobilizations of xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiments in the party system in which they operate. This turn to agency emphasizes political mobilization and organization in explaining anti-immigrant politics, as well as agents’ relevance as “agenda-setters” (Kingdom 1984) that frame, shape, or even generate public policy preferences (Enyedi 2005).

As far as the politicodiscursive salience of the immigration issue and of distinctly anti-immigrant parties are concerned, cross-country variations are even greater than on the demand-side level (i.e., cleavages and attitudes in the populace). In fact, in some cases – such as post-Communist Europe – there is even a disequilibrium between xenophobic demands and the electoral (in)significance of anti-immigrant parties. By contrast, in countries like Denmark or Switzerland, distinctly anti-immigrant parties have developed into major players or entered government (Frölich-Steffen and Rensmann 2007). In some cases anti-immigrant sentiments appeared to be less salient prior to the construction and mobilization of the immigration issue by mainstream parties (Perlmutter 2002). Yet although overall anti-immigrant mobilizations have become increasingly popular both on the margins and in the mainstream over the last two decades, the electoral success of anti-immigrant parties strongly varies in time and space, as the European cases show (see Table 1). If there is any trend, extreme-right and anti-immigrant parties had their first peak in the late 1990s. Of 22 anti-immigrant parties, none had their peak before 1989, 3 between 1990 and 1994, 7 between 1995 and 1999, and 8 between 2000 and 2005. Those variations call for generalizable explanations regarding the second question of this entry: Which independent variables on the supply side may help to explain anti-immigrant campaigns by “mainstream” political actors and the success of “anti-immigrant parties”?

Several approaches in recent party research suggest that much of the variation in political and electoral success depends on the supply side of anti-immigrant parties. They are actively shaping both anti-immigrant politics and “their own fate” (Berman 1997:102). According to a number of authors, many new-right parties in liberal democracies around the globe not only were formed around the immigration issue or, especially in the case of many post-Communist democracies, ethnic minority issues since the early 1980s (van der Brug et al. 2000; Betz 2002; van der Brug and Fennema 2003), but also acted as key agents of anti-immigrant propaganda. It is argued that at least initially, they were practically functioning as single-issue parties, bringing immigration and minority issues to the forefront. Betz (2002) as well as van der Brug et al. (2000) suggest that anti-immigrant parties not only “seized” the issue after they imitated successful international party strategies, but also have served as anti-immigrant agenda setters. By addressing the issue of immigration, initially neglected by established democratic parties, and by facilitating resentments in the populace, they filled a void and created political space for themselves (Kriesi 1999). Accordingly, they played an active role in new, postindustrial cleavage formation (Enyedi 2005). At any rate, anti-immigrant propaganda by new or transformed party actors has undoubtedly helped to increase the salience of the immigration issue, has mobilized xenophobia, and has been repeatedly the key ideological factor in the electoral breakthrough of these parties. It is less clear, however, if the breakthrough of the anti-immigrant issue in modern democratic politics is predominantly an effect of anti-immigrant parties, or rather a radical reflection of previous shifts in mainstream immigration politics. Besides the question of this causal relation, the explanation for significant variations remains unspecified in this approach.

Table 1 Electoral Results of Anti-Immigrant Parties in Parliamentary Elections in 16 European Countries, 1984–2008 (%)






AN (Italy)

5.9 (MSI)





LN (Italy)





FPÖ (Austria)






SVP (Switzerland)






DF (Denmark)




NPP (Norway)





No election

NPD (Germany)





No election

REPs (Germany)




No election

DVU (Germany)


No election

SNS (Slovakia)





VB (Belgium)






LPF (Netherlands)



RMZ (Czech Republic)





Ataka (Bulgaria)


VMROBND (Bulgaria)




FN (France)






BNP (Great Britain)





No election

MIÉP (Hungary)





LPR (Poland)



Samoobrona (Poland)





PUNR (Romania)




No election

PRM (Romania)




No election

* In 2008, AN no longer competed independently but under the umbrella of Il Popolo della Libertà.

** LPF dissolved and did not compete in the 2006 election.

*** In coalition with two other small parties.

Sources: Norris (2005), Ignazi (2003),,, and

To be sure, most authors working on the supply side agree that anti-immigrant parties’ ideological modernization is necessary but not sufficient for neonationalist and anti-immigrant campaigns to be electorally and political successful (Betz 1994; Carter 2005; Norris 2005; Rydgren 2005). In order to broaden the electorate, gain political legitimacy, and effectively mobilize against immigrants, there is empirical evidence that most successful anti-immigrant parties which had been founded since the 1980s or developed from old extreme-right parties have in some way distanced themselves from the (almost on a global scale, for sure in liberal-democratic contexts) largely discredited, old fascist extreme right and its ideological heritage. In fact, along with the distancing of old fascist symbolism, the “modernized” framing of new, purportedly “legitimate” issues, such as immigration and national identity, has arguably been a key to success for many new extreme or right anti-immigrant parties (Ignazi 2003). This is to a considerable extent a matter of party strategy and issue selection for campaigning.

At times this “modernized” agitation against immigrants has become indirect and coded, by linking immigration to undermined social welfare, workplace security and wages, and overpopulation scenarios (“the boat is full”); by blaming immigrants for the loss of home and national identity (Swank and Betz 2003); or, as of late, by pointing to terrorism and national security threats in the aftermath of 9/11. Thereby these parties have shaped and influenced mainstream discourse. At other times images and language are more overt and essentialist, suggesting cultural incompatibility with certain religious or ethnic groups or identifying immigrants with the spread of new global diseases or “locusts.” To be sure, some of these images very much resemble old racist resentments. It can be argued that most forms of this anti-immigrant propaganda only utilize new versions of the same old rather than a renewal of the core party ideology of traditional extreme-right parties. However, “modernized” extreme-right parties or new distinctly anti-immigrant parties have overall been more successful than “old,” “nostalgic” extreme-right parties which do not break with old fascist traditions. More precisely, neopopulist variations of anti-immigrant parties with a more moderate image and modernized ideology – classified by some as radical right parties as opposed to clearly antidemocratic extreme-right parties – are often believed to be politically and electorally more successful at mobilizing anti-immigrant sentiment than more extreme variants (Ignazi 2003). However, these findings are not completely uncontested. While modernization and “moderation” appear to have an overall impact on the mobilization of xenophobic, potential extreme-right voters who did not vote for openly fascist parties, there are several cases in which such “new” anti-immigrant parties were unsuccessful. There are also cases in which utmost radicalism as such does not seem to do much harm to electoral prospects (Carter 2005). In Germany, for example, more moderate anti-immigrant parties are less electorally successful than the old-fashioned neo-Nazi party NPD, which has recently entered two regional parliaments in the East (Rensmann 2006). In addition, in most studies the criteria for both radicalism and “nostalgia” are not clearly defined; neither in general, nor regarding the anti-immigrant issue. In some cases, old-style extreme-right parties may only seem irrelevant because most parties have “modernized” their ideologies and responded to new issues in some way, so that in the end few parties can be classified as nostalgic-fascist, rendering the categorization almost superfluous.

Against this background, recent studies have put emphasis on more specific aspects of party performance and party strategies. In particular, it is suggested that organizational factors are in play for anti-immigrant agitators to gain strength, credibility leverage, and, after all, electoral success. They are seen as key variables for their highly divergent electoral and political success (Mudde 2007:264). Organizational factors include stable resources, networks, and a well-developed professional infrastructure which enhances not only party cohesion and leadership stability but also the capacity to run an effective campaign and gain media attention. Especially in the long run, with regard to the consolidation and persistence of anti-immigrant actors, weak or dysfunctional party organization and fractionalism can have a detrimental effect on the political relevance of those actors (Betz 2002). This is particularly the case if anti-immigrant parties enter government and take governing responsibilities (Frölich-Steffen and Rensmann 2007). However, factors of party institutionalization and organization are often difficult to operationalize in empirical studies. Few studies have done so in a convincing fashion.

Other theories on internal supply-side factors concentrate more specifically on the role of leadership, namely, charismatic leadership or the personal quality of the leading anti-immigrant messengers. Roger Eatwell’s (2006) recent work differentiates between “centripetal charisma” and “coterie charisma.” Centripetal charisma addresses the popular notion of charisma, that is, the leader’s ability to attract a broad swath of support for the anti-immigrant message and the party by personally embodying it. The charismatic leader provides a credible image for the message. Coterie charisma, on the other hand, keeps parties with strong subdivisions together; the effect of party cohesion helps to activate membership and hence a consolidated presence of the party and its message on various political levels (Eatwell 2006). To be sure, charismatic leadership can play a role to give credibility to the anti-immigrant message and make it appear more legitimate. For example, the Austrian politician Jörg Haider’s centripetal charisma was certainly important to initially facilitate the anti-immigrant message and gain support for his party. However, his egocentric style may have also prevented the further professionalization of his party’s leadership and, in the long run, prevented recruiting more ambitious anti-immigrant leaders as well as “loyal” xenophobic potential voters against the significant level of “xenophobic demand” among certain segments of the Austrian electorate; in the end, the FPÖ split. Even more dramatically, the New Zealand First Party had a stunning success due also to Winston Peters’s charismatic leadership, which nonetheless could not prevent the party’s temporary internal breakdown. To the contrary, it appears that Jean-Marie LePen in France or Umberto Bossi in Italy have also displayed a high level of internal coterie charisma that regenerates leadership support and continuously high levels of support among xenophobic voters. Yet while the leadership factor may explain some variation of anti-immigrant mobilization (particularly in an era of “personalized politics”), it is not yet clear if this emphasis on charismatic leadership, which reflects popular literature on the subject, is exaggerated.

Anti-Immigrant Parties and Beyond: Integrating the Interplay of Electoral Markets, Neonationalist Discourse, and the Politics of Exclusion

Reflecting the limitations of both demand-side and supply-side approaches and the causal mechanisms they seek to establish, various studies in recent years have developed mixed models to explain the rise of anti-immigrant politics and agents. This section examines mixed models, including those incorporating other institutional, systemic, and discursive factors and the interplay of agents in the political process.

Cas Mudde, for instance, criticizes that most theories on the success of extreme-right anti-immigrant parties are still “either monocausal” or, if multicausal, “still exclusively based upon macro- and micro-level demand-side variables” (2007:298) and thus also calls for a stronger integration of supply-side factors. However, he expands the perspective by looking at their interplay and by distinguishing between an internal supply side of political parties (party ideology, agitation and mobilizations, organization, and leadership personnel) and an external supply side, which includes the political context of party competition in the political arena, the institutional context (the political and electoral system), the media, and cultural contexts (political culture and history).

Yet such broad inclusion of “cultural contexts” into the external supply side rather obstructs robust operationalizations. While “political culture” matters, it makes more sense to understand it as part of a third set of factors, here particular legacies shaping demand- and supply-side variables – for example, with regard to hegemonic discursive self-understandings of agents (supply) and aggregate-level attitudes toward exclusive national identity (demand). Koopmans et al. (2005) add useful concepts of, and distinctions between, systemic political factors (political opportunity structures) and ideological spaces related to embedded cultural discourses (discursive opportunity structures), especially the dominant discourses on immigrants and immigration. Yet, similar to Mudde, the authors misconstrue both also as “supply-side” variables. Neither are they simply “demand-side” variables (van der Brug and Fennema 2007:476). Rather, it makes sense to conceive the system variables, the electoral market, and discursive opportunity structures as a third set of variables (Norris 2005).

Be that as it may, Mudde also distinguishes between different periods in which internal and external supply-side factors matter most for the success of extreme-right anti-immigrant parties. He argues that parties as agents do not play a particularly important role for their electoral breakthrough but play a key role in turning anti-immigrant actors into persistent players in the political and electoral arena. Conversely, Mudde (2007) maintains that external supply-side factors are more relevant for the political opportunities of newcomers to enter the scene and translate xenophobic sentiments into parliamentary representation of anti-immigrant parties. Even (anti-immigrant) issue ownership, Mudde claims, is not a necessary, though it is a favorable, condition for initial breakthroughs. Once it happens, electoral persistence of xenophobic or single-issue anti-immigrant parties depends on a different set of factors, turning anti-immigrant parties themselves into the crucial independent variable.

There may be doubts about the generalizability of this periodization. Yet Arzheimer and Carter provide ample evidence that varying structural political factors strongly influence the initial political opportunities – hence success or failure – of new anti-immigrant actors and parties (2006). They benefit from different state financing regulations for political parties, providing vastly different financial resources. Even more importantly, new anti-immigrant parties obviously have a much more daunting – if not next to impossible – task of establishing themselves in single-member-district electoral systems which favor majoritarian, two-party competition. On the other hand, systems of extreme proportional representation enabling multiparty systems obviously increase the chances for small new parties to achieve parliamentary representation and political relevance – even if their anti-immigrant viewpoints are radical. Pippa Norris demonstrates in a broad global comparison that anti-immigrant parties, like other newcomers, tend to benefit from proportional representation and low legal thresholds for parliamentary representation (Norris 2005).

In a similar vein, Givens (2005) argues that demand-side explanations focusing on public support for anti-immigrant parties and policies need to be qualified by political and electoral system factors. Givens argues that anti-immigrant parties – in Givens’s terminology, radical right parties – have more problems attracting voters and winning seats in countries whose political systems encourage voters to vote strategically. For example, the two-stage election system in France makes it hard for such parties to win any seats in the second round. While voters may cast votes in the first round to protest incumbents, they will change their vote in the decisive second round. By contrast, the grand coalition between the two biggest parties encouraged Austrians to cast protest votes, and this eventually propelled the radical right anti-immigrant Freedom Party into government. Elizabeth Carter (2005) contributes insights into additional formal and informal barriers to campaigning and public funding of new challengers. Such barriers take part in diverging political opportunities for new anti-immigrant parties (Carter 2005:162ff).

However, the focus on anti-immigrant parties, electoral rules, and political systems also appears far too limited to understand the full scope of contemporary anti-immigrant politics and policies, and to develop a dynamic understanding thereof. This is why some approaches focus on party competition, the ideological space in which anti-immigrant politics takes place, and mainstream discourse as key variables. In her work, Carter (2005) focuses exclusively on ideological space and seems to confirm Kitschelt and McGann’s convergence thesis (Kitschelt and McGann 1995). She examines four consequences of party strategies for the success of anti-immigrant and/or radical right parties: the degree of centrism of mainstream right parties, the degree of extremism of the radical right, the relative distance of conventional and radical right, and the distance between mainstream left-wing and right-wing parties. She singles out the centrism of the mainstream right parties and the convergence of left and right mainstream parties as the strongest predictors of radical right party success (Carter 2005). Yet Carter fails to control for demand-side conditions, and it is unclear if her simple statistical OLS estimations are still robust if more adequate pooled time series are employed (Kitschelt 2007:1187).

Initiating the discussion on the rise of new extreme-right anti-immigrant parties in the early 1990s, Ignazi conceives opposition to postmaterial value change and cosmopolitan inclusiveness as a key demand-side condition. Yet Ignazi (2003) also emphasizes the active role of political actors addressing and facilitating anti-immigrant sentiments and polarizing politics around these issues. However, contrary to the common claim that anti-immigrant parties could emerge because mainstream parties in postindustrial democracies neglected the immigration issue (Kriesi 1999), and in opposition to Kitschelt and McGann’s influential thesis that new anti-immigrant parties in modern democracies benefited from a centrist ideological convergence opening political space for new right-wing competitors, Ignazi takes a look at the specific dynamics in relation to mainstream conservative actors. According to Ignazi, anti-immigrant parties profited from an ideological space created by various mainstream center-right parties, which did not neglect but rather pushed issues like “law and order” and immigration in the late 1970s and 1980s. This ideological polarization expressed the “silent counterrevolution” against inclusive self-expression values, and, Ignazi suggests, it expanded the realm of “legitimate” discourse on immigrants and ethnic minorities to an extent that new extreme-right parties could not have. The results of the conservative parties’ rightward shift while in opposition are the polarization and explosion of these issues, which, in turn, created an ideological space for anti-immigrant parties, especially after mainstream center-right parties moved back into the center when holding public office (Ignazi 1992; 2003). Other recent studies have also criticized Kitschelt’s convergence thesis and questioned its validity and generalizabilty (Norris 2005). However, Ignazi’s analysis of discursive dynamics might not go far enough because it neglects the role of the media and other mainstream center – or even left-wing – parties in creating ideological space for, and legitimizing, anti-immigrant views and policies.

Accordingly, not the absence of immigration issues in the mainstream public sphere but the use of it – including the call for more restrictive policies – has credited more radical anti-immigrant agitation with legitimacy and expanded the ideological space or “zone of acquiescence” toward more authoritarian-right views (Norris 2005). In turn, to be sure, there are also ample cases in which mainstream parties have responded to popular challenges by anti-immigrant parties by readjusting their policies, hence making them more restrictive. Here anti-immigrant parties appear to cause a “rightward shift” in ideological position and public policies by other major parties in subsequent contests (Norris 2005). The double-edged hypothesis that those mainstream actors may be a key variable accounting not only for the varying success of anti-immigrant parties that “steal” the issue but also for the salience and legitimacy of anti-immigrant policies is promising.

In recent work, Meguid (2005; 2008) examines how the electoral strategy of proximal and nonproximal mainstream parties influences the success of anti-immigrant parties, as well other niche parties. By expanding the concept of party strategy from purely programmatic tools to include salience and ownership dimensions, Meguid allows for the actions of nonproximal competitors to alter the fortunes of the far-right party and the mainstream conservative party. Namely, these mainstream parties can employ tactics that alter the salience and ownership of issues for political competition. When confronted by a far-right party, mainstream parties can choose to dismiss or not act on the issue introduced by the new party, which decreases issue salience and has no effect on issue ownership. The parties can accommodate the issue, incorporating the issue into their platforms, which increases the issue salience and transfers issue ownership to the mainstream party. Finally, the parties can adopt an adversarial stance toward the issue, which will increase the salience of the issue and reinforce the far-right party’s ownership of it. The combination of party strategies pursued by mainstream parties can result in vote gain or loss by the far-right party. If both mainstream parties ignore the issue or both accommodate it, the far-right party can expect to lose votes. If they simultaneously take adversarial stances to the issue, the party can expect to gain votes. The more complicated scenarios play out if each party adopts a divergent strategy. For instance, if one party dismisses the issue and the other accommodates it, the extreme right party will lose support. However, in the case of a dismissive and adversarial combination, the new party can expect to cull support. Finally, if one party adopts an accommodative strategy and the other an adversarial one, the vote totals for the new party will depend on the relative intensity of the accommodative and adversarial strategies. If the accommodative strategy is more intense, the new party will lose ownership of the issue. In the opposite scenario, the new party can expect to gain votes. Using a pooled cross-sectional time series analysis on data from national-level legislative elections in Western Europe from 1970 to 2000, the models confirm these hypotheses (Meguid 2008). Yet both hypotheses also deserve more robust empirical testing. Meguid’s analysis lacks adequate controls capturing the propositions implied by a purely spatial convergence model formulation of party success; without a sophisticated configurational mapping of electoral systems beyond measures of the logarithm of the median district magnitude, it is not surprising that Meguid does not find electoral system effects (Kitschelt 2007:1192).

In one of the most advanced research studies on complex strategic configurations, van der Brug et al. (2005) capture demand-side conditions for anti-immigrant party success based on preference distributions among voters in a polity (distilled from surveys including sociodemographic variables and issue positions) and also control for the extent that political party competition is programmatic or not, which is essential for any valid spatial model (Kitschelt 2007:1188). Incorporating potential voting for anti-immigrant parties, their study discloses that these parties tend to be stronger the more the main competitors assume a centrist stance.

Yet broad comparisons show mixed patterns. In the majoritarian systems of France and Canada, a broader cultural – and anti-immigrant – shift in the political Zeitgeist seems the cause of growing support for anti-immigrant parties. On the other hand, in Norway and Austria there is evidence for the contagion of the right thesis, namely, that in response to electoral successes of anti-immigrant parties, other major parties move rightward on immigration and related cultural issues, subsequently changing party competition and the ideological space (Norris 2005:267f). The most convincing theoretical move to capture such interactions comes from the aforementioned contribution by Koopmans et al. (2005), who distinguish between available ideological space for party competitors, on the one hand, embedded in discursive opportunity structures, on the other. In this context, David Art (2005) demonstrates how political communication on specific cultural legacies can influence hegemonic concepts of national identity and immigration.

Expanding the scope of their dependent variables, they also consider that anti-immigrants also find expression in unconventional mobilizations and subcultural venues (Koopmans et al. 2005). In doing so, they point to another neglected but important arena: anti-immigrant politics on the local and grassroots level. In part, this negligence is due to the trend to ever broader comparative studies. Be that as it may, a few studies repeatedly indicate the crucial role of local xenophobic mobilizations against immigrants, ethnic minorities, and refugees by “uncivil” initiatives and other nonparty players. They are exemplified by grassroots mobilization in southern Spain directed against immigrants from the Maghreb, and racist violence by youth groups in East German “no-go areas.” If existent, activities “on the ground,” from anti-immigrant petitions to local networks against asylum homes and consolidated youth subcultures, have frequently proven to effectively expand the zone of acquiescence in which anti-immigrant politics can gain legitimacy (Pedahzur and Weinberg 2001). Some authors argue not only that those parties help facilitate a broader anti-immigrant discourse or climate but also that their rhetoric is spilling over into violence (Marcus 2000:40), though there is little validated correlation, let alone causation. Others argue that successful extreme-right anti-immigrant parties actually channel the aggressions of would-be perpetrators of violence, hence suggesting a trade-off (Koopmans and Statham 1999). However, the long-term impact of subcultural “uncivil societies” and anti-immigrant grassroots politics on macrolevel politics should not be overlooked. Subcultural milieus may turn into an important political force and an electoral factor once effectively mobilized (Pedahzur and Weinberg 2001; Rensmann 2006).

Precarious Predictions: What We Know about Anti-Immigrant Politics

However, the third and final question this entry raised, namely, what causal mechanisms can be found between contextual and structural factors, xenophobic attitudes, and anti-immigrant party politics, remains difficult to answer. Research on the dynamics of anti-immigrant politics shows mixed results with limited generalizability, and thus predictions based on causal mechanisms are precarious. New research designs are required to test more dynamic, process-oriented hypotheses. Although several recent studies have already focused on interaction effects in the political process (Perlmutter 2002; Minkenberg 2003), few studies have systematically examined and tested the complex dynamic interrelation between economic factors, cultural demand and value cleavages, supply-side competitors, electoral and political system conditions, politicocultural discourse on national identity and immigration, and anti-immigration policies. One of the more promising dynamic approaches is put forward by Roger Eatwell (2000). He claims that the dynamic factors of growing legitimacy of antiimmigrant positions and parties, in combination with the rising personal efficacy of xenophobic agitators, and declining system trust (LET) can explain varying voter behavior for anti-immigrant parties even under otherwise similar cultural contexts and demand-side conditions. Still, Eatwell remains focused on the rather narrow perspective of extreme-right party electoral success, which is his dependent variable, and neglects the broader successful appeal of anti-immigrant politics, that is, potential ideological movements by other major (party and nonparty) actors in the electoral market and the broader political culture. There are valid findings on causal mechanisms and correlations on the demand-side factors and cultural contexts. Yet they are often unrelated to systematic party and party system research in relation to anti-immigrant actors. In turn, studies focused on anti-immigrant parties are often separate from reconstructive discourse analyses, cultural contexts, and transformations of ideological spaces which may help explain the significant variations of anti-immigrant politics in the global age.

A more dynamic analysis of ideological, discursive, and political processes in relation to immigration may point back to the role that mainstream parties have often played in promoting neonationalism and anti-immigrant policies of exclusion, either as mobilizing agenda setters or in response to new anti-immigrant political actors, while also addressing the role of national political cultures. It can be argued that far from shying away from the issue or simply opposing anti-immigrant positions by new competitors, mainstream party actors have often played a reinforcing role, as Meguid (2008) demonstrates in a qualitative discourse analysis. This is displayed by statements and policy initiatives reaching from parts of New Labour in Great Britain to center-right and center-left parties in Germany in the 1990s to certain conservatives in the Republican Party in the US. Today, it is difficult to claim that anti-immigrant politics are simply the product of effective or electorally successful anti-immigrant parties. This causal relation can neither be confirmed in the case in two-party systems, in which anti-immigrant sentiments have frequently been mobilized by members of the conservative mainstream parties, nor found valid for the multiparty systems in which anti-immigrant parties entered the political space. In addition, anti-immigrant policy orientations have also been introduced and mobilized by distinctly left-wing parties. For instance, in 1981, the French Communist Party began to utilize the immigration issue in order to rebuild their electoral base (Kitschelt and McGann 1995:98). Nonetheless, new anti-immigrant parties play an important role in challenging liberal-democratic consensus and altering public discourse toward more exclusivism directed against both ethnic minorities and new immigrants.

There is a limited set of things that we do know. According to present demand-side research, (1) it can be claimed that while in some cases uneducated, unemployed workers and more generally blue-collar workers are disproportionately represented in relation to xenophobic attitudes and electoral support for anti-immigrant parties, the perception of economic and cultural status (or, more specifically, fear of status loss) and (antimarket) economic attitudes are more robust independent variables than actual socioeconomic status. In fact, “objective” demographics, such as economic status, unemployment rate, or the amount of ethnic minorities and immigrants, have an insignificant impact on xenophobia. This finding at least partially explains temporal variations. However, support for cultural protectionism predicts who will vote for extreme right anti-immigrant parties. In contrast to economic attitudes, anti-immigrant and antirefugee attitudes remain the most significant predictors of anti-immigrant party voting even after applying a battery of prior social and attitudinal controls (Norris 2005:185f), though existential economic insecurity might be a contributing factor. Avoiding wholesale generalizations about economic status as an independent variable, specific economic dimensions can play a role if they are linked to specific cultural perceptions and value-based conflicts. In this context, demand for antiimmigrant policies and (ethnocultural mobilizations) is related to widespread fears toward the multiple changes associated with globalization in relevant segments of the electorate (Ishiyama 2004:20). The relevance of those fears and their political resonance, however, also depend on particular politicocultural legacies that shape political behavior over generations (Kitschelt 2001).

This corresponds to strong indicators that (2) sociocultural changes and the evolution of global diversity face increased xenophobic opposition, or a “silent counterrevolution” of what can be construed as countercosmopolitanism. It is embedded in emerging, value-based shifts in the cleavage axes of postindustrial democracies, which affect attitudes toward immigration and the salience of the immigration issue. Pointing to an emerging cosmopolitanism–countercosmopolitanism cleavage (Grande 2006), value change toward inclusive liberal cosmopolitanism faces polarized opposition from a bulk of voters with authoritarian-nationalist, xenophobic, and culturally protectionist orientations. The latter often – but not consistently – correlate on a secondary level with economic protectionism, that is, reservations toward new global economic competition (Weiss 2003). Such competition is today frequently seen as embodied by both foreign workers and foreign capital, rather than domestic capital. Kriesi et al. (2006) provide indicators of a new cleavage that pits new losers of globalization against new winners: Unqualified employees, entrepreneurs in traditionally protected sectors, and citizens who strongly identify themselves with their national community become opposed to qualified employees, international entrepreneurs, and citizens with cosmopolitan orientations.

In addition, there is (3) a correlation between xenophobic attitudes and the degree of nationalism in general, as well as ethnic national identities in particular (in contrast to civic or weak national identities). This finding applies to both the level of individual attitude and the macro level of dominant national self-understandings, though it still needs testing in combination with other factors such as economic decline. However, ethnic identity is an especially relevant factor which can account for temporal and spatial variations in xenophobic demands. Yet while ethnically homogeneous societies are often relatively good predictors (or a favorable cultural context variable) for the potential rise or salience of anti-immigrant politics under globalizing conditions, ethnically diverse societies can also witness a steep increase in antiimmigrant attitudes and politics. However, as far as postindustrial migration and ethnic diversification, that is, the transformation from ethnically exclusive to immigrant societies, enable closer relations with immigrants, xenophobia is likely to decrease at least on the individual level. Yet the relationship between the individual and aggregate levels often remains unclear.

A recent shift toward supply-side explanations is situated in the context of research on new anti-immigrant parties in multiparty liberal democracies across the globe. It is also induced by the limits of demand-side explanations to account for significant political variations. Supply-side approaches seek to explain the different levels of relevance of anti-immigrant mobilizations in general, as well as the diverging paths in terms of electoral and political success of anti-immigrant parties in particular. Beyond the dependency of anti-immigrant actors (from both new extreme-right and mainstream parties) on effective party organization and infrastructure, much research emphasizes (4) the importance of credible, charismatic leadership and, even more important, modernized party ideologies and campaigns on the internal supply side. Inroads to party systems, mainstream discourse, and electoral prospects often – though not in all cases – depend on the way anti-immigrant actors “sell” their message; this regularly includes a “fresh” image, a turn to allegedly “neglected” issues of immigration, and distance from conventional fascist or extremist parties. Increasingly, anti-immigrant propaganda and the exploitation of the immigrant issue are embedded in new ideological conflict dimensions and cleavages associated with globalization.

Finally, there is ample evidence that (5) external supply-side factors – the electoral and political system as well as the electoral marketplace – play a key role with regard to the salience of anti-immigrant politics in general and anti-immigrant parties in particular. However, there are mixed findings – and still a lack of broad comparative research – on exactly how the causal mechanisms function. To be sure, proportional representation provides more favorable political opportunity structures for distinct anti-immigrant parties than a single-member-district system, in which anti-immigrant policy orientations tend to be represented by politicians of one of the major (more often conservative) parties. In order to understand the cross-country variations in the rise of anti-immigrant politics, it is important to examine further the causal relations between mainstream discourse and parties, on one hand, and particular anti-immigrant actors (in the media or in the form of new parties), on the other. In a cross-national perspective, there is noticeable variance in both the intensity of a neonationalist “rightward turn” on immigration, and – although there are also some generalizable causes – the cause and effect of such ideological or public policy shifts. Yet overall, there is a generally increased call and implementation of more restrictive antiimmigrant as well as anti-asylum policies in recent decades, or a revival of the “politics of exclusion.”

…And What We Like to Know: On the Future of Anti-Immigrant Politics and Their Study in a Global Context

A hypothesis that deserves further empirical scrutiny suggests that anti-immigrant politics find more favorable conditions in countries with hegemonic ethnic-exclusivist national self-understandings (Koopmans et al. 2005), and in which demands for cultural protectionism and fears of sociocultural globalization are more widespread; in which charismatic leaders with an effective political infrastructure have come to surface and established electorally successful anti-immigrant parties; and where mainstream public policies toward immigration have shifted toward more restriction (Luedtke 2008), either in response to successful anti-immigrant parties or prior to their success.

Yet any predictions are a precarious business. Comprehensive global data over time are limited, and this is one reason which has inhibited more empirically sound, generalizable findings. It is noteworthy, though, that new divisions which are linked to the perception of multifaceted cultural transformations associated with “globalization” appear to emerge as context factors. Globalization also functions as a textual reference in anti-immigrant politics, against which particular politicocultural legacies are mobilized. Immigrants and ethnic minorities are often linked to global disease, cultural change and the loss of identity, or global terrorism. In this context, especially Muslim immigrants have become new targets of xenophobic resentments since 9/11 across the globe, but so have Jews, who are increasingly identified with cosmopolitanism, global power, and multinational banks (Rensmann 2006). In nondemocratic countries, governments tend to be especially restrictive toward human and immigrant rights. Yet even in liberal democracies in which immigration profoundly shaped the national development, like the United States or Australia (still the primary countries to which people migrate), immigrant and asylum rights have deteriorated over recent years.

At any rate, political processes and the dynamic interplay between contextual and generalizable demand-side factors, institutionalized agent constellations, the specific politicocultural opportunity structures regarding immigration, and the ideological space of political competition still deserve far more attention in future research designs, as does the meso level, which may better explain formative interactions between local organizations, individual attitudes, and grassroots anti-immigrant activities. The conventional focus on political attitudinal structures and aggregate political behavior is insufficient without addressing specific political and discursive opportunities in different political systems, markets, and cultures – thus the contextual conditions of party competition in which anti-immigrant agents can emerge and operate.

To be sure, fears of immigrants and ethnic minorities have multiple cultural, economic, and political causes. Although there are significant cross-country variations when it comes to the salience and depth of these fears on micro, meso, and broader political levels, they are widespread across the globe, and under certain conditions such fears can be mobilized in various contexts. The future of anti-immigrant politics is likely to depend on the evolution of cosmopolitan values in the face of multifaceted globalization, the strength of democratic institutions and inclusiveness of their political cultures, as well as the performance of political actors – and especially the scope of ideological legitimacy of those who facilitate anti-immigrant politics.


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Links to Digital Materials

Agency for Fundamental Rights:, accessed Nov. 11, 2009. The website for the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, which advises policy makers across the EU on racism and xenophobia, among other issues. The website includes research and news from the agency.

Brookings Institute Immigration Site:, accessed Nov. 11, 2009. This website for the Washington, DC–based think tank includes research on the demographic, economic, social, and political impact of immigration in the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.

European Commission Website on Immigration:, accessed Nov. 11, 2009. The European Commission is the executive branch of the European Union, responsible for proposing legislation and implementing decisions, among other duties. Their website includes link to data and policy proposals regarding immigration.

European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR):, accessed Nov. 11, 2009. This scholarly association’s website is a comprehensive European information source and includes extensive research on anti-immigrant politics. You must be a member to access online resources.

European Election Studies (EES):, accessed Nov. 11, 2009. European Election Studies includes data on electoral participation and voting behavior in European Parliament elections. It also includes content analyses of party manifestos, elite surveys, and content analyses of media news.

National Immigration Forum:, accessed Nov. 11, 2009. The National Immigration Forum is an advocacy organization promoting the value of immigration to the United States. The website includes information on current US legislation on immigration, agency actions on immigration, as well as its own research on topics of interest.

The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD):,3305,en_2649_201185_1_1_1_1_1,00.html, accessed Nov. 11, 2009. The Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development website includes statistics on economic variables as well as an international migration database and a database on immigrants in OECD countries.

World Values Survey (WVS):, accessed Nov. 11, 2009. The World Values Survey carries out representative national surveys in 97 countries to track changes in people’s attitudes. The website includes data from its five surveys, starting in 1981 and ending in 2007.