How economic, humanitarian, and religious concerns shape European attitudes toward asylum seekers

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Science  14 Oct 2016:
Vol. 354, Issue 6309, pp. 217-222
DOI: 10.1126/science.aag2147

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A consensus in Europe about asylum seekers

Violent conflicts between groups often generate large numbers of noncombatant refugees. Bansak et al. surveyed western European attitudes toward such asylum seekers. They found that voters favor applicants who will contribute to the recipient country's economy, who have suffered severe physical or mental distress rather than economic hardship, and who are Christian rather than Muslim. These preferences are similar across countries and independent of the voters' personal characteristics.

Science, this issue p. 217


What types of asylum seekers are Europeans willing to accept? We conducted a conjoint experiment asking 18,000 eligible voters in 15 European countries to evaluate 180,000 profiles of asylum seekers that randomly varied on nine attributes. Asylum seekers who have higher employability, have more consistent asylum testimonies and severe vulnerabilities, and are Christian rather than Muslim received the greatest public support. These results suggest that public preferences over asylum seekers are shaped by sociotropic evaluations of their potential economic contributions, humanitarian concerns about the deservingness of their claims, and anti-Muslim bias. These preferences are similar across respondents of different ages, education levels, incomes, and political ideologies, as well as across the surveyed countries. This public consensus on what types of asylum seekers to accept has important implications for theory and policy.

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