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The dynamics of issue salience and voting: did the refugee crisis affect turnout in European national elections?

Author:

Hanna Folsz

Durham University, GB
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Abstract

The European refugee crisis caused an unprecedented rise in the salience of refugees and immigration policy across European countries, with the issue of refugees and immigration suddenly dominating all facets of political life. This paper investigates the effect of this phenomenon on political behaviour, particularly citizens’ decision to vote in national elections across Europe. It proposes that the refugee crisis raised the salience of immigration policy and made it a dominant policy issue in elections, which reduced indifference-based abstention. This resulted in an increase in overall turnout in European national elections held following the onset of the refugee crisis. To confirm this proposal, this paper employs two empirical tests. First, it investigates whether a positive correlation exists between changes in turnout and perceived immigration policy salience. Following this, a more rigorous empirical test is performed on individual-level data from the European Social Survey in five countries, investigating the relationship between changes in voting habits and attitudes towards refugees and immigration. The results of the two test confirm the hypothesis that the refugee crisis impacted electoral turnout through reducing indifference based abstention. However, it must also be emphasised that this effect appears to be conditional upon the thematization of the issue, meaning the extent to which refugee and immigration policies actually structured electoral competition. While this conclusion clearly contributes to the understanding of issue-based electoral participation decisions and provides additional proof of the significant effect of policies on turnout levels, future studies employing more rigorous statistical methods, expanded dataset including more countries, and individual-level panel data would significantly further our understanding of the effects of changes in policy salience on political participation dynamics.

How to Cite: Folsz, H., 2019. The dynamics of issue salience and voting: did the refugee crisis affect turnout in European national elections?. LSE Undergraduate Political Review, 2, pp.5–26.
Published on 25 Jun 2019.
Peer Reviewed

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