The 2015 Refugee Crisis in Germany: Concerns about Immigration and Populism

Alessandro Sola

SOEP Papers, Issue 966, 2018


This paper investigates the effect of the refugee crisis on German concerns about immigration, and whether these concerns are associated with the recent success of right-wing populism in Germany. The author suggests that individual concerns about immigration may arise for economic or cultural reasons, i.e. self-interested individuals could hold negative attitudes based on the perceived impact of immigration on wages and taxes, or the arrival of refugees could “threaten the national identity”. Exploiting exogenous variation in survey interview timing of the German Socio-Economic Panel survey, the author employs a difference-in-differences method to estimate the short-term causal effect of the refugee crisis, and the related government’s asylum policy, on concerns about immigration. The analysis reveals that concerns about immigration increased by 22 percent compared to the pre-refugee crisis baseline level. This increase was twice as large for East Germans compared to West Germans. The author shows that education levels are strongly negatively correlated with concerns about immigration. Moreover, concerns about immigration are positively correlated with political support for the right-wing populist party, Alternative for Germany (Alternative fur Deutschland, AfD), and not with support for other political parties. However, using the variability in concerns generated by the refugee crisis, the author finds no evidence of a causal effect of concerns on political preferences in the short-term. The author acknowledges the limitations of these results, since individuals do not fully disclose their real political preferences, especially for a right-wing populist party expressing radical and xenophobic positions. Additionally, the analysis focuses on the short-term and it is possible that AfD mobilized large shares of the electorate closer to the election.