Akira Soto Nishimura| PhD Candidate, Danube University Krems
The idea that public opinion or attitude influences policy is largely an uncontroversial one. At least in democracies there is evidence policy makers pay some head to public attitudes. This makes sense given that politicians have to face the public at some point if they wish to be reelected. With regards to immigration, it has been found that both the preference and salience of immigration has an effect on immigration policy. A more controversial idea is that policy effects public opinion and attitudes. There are three mechanisms through which public policy could affect public attitudes. The first is through direct experience with a policy such as when a person applies for unemployment benefits, they gain direct experience with unemployment policies. Good experiences will lead to more positive attitudes towards the policy and bad experiences have a negative effect. The second mechanism is exposure which states that the longer citizens interact with a particular policy or institution, the more ‘comfortable’ they become. The third mechanism, signaling, is like exposure but is more related to norm signaling of elites. There is evidence that national policies effect attitudes on issues such as smoking, health care, welfare. These effects when found tend to be modest in size. Immigration policy differs from the above issues, as most non-immigrants will not interact directly with immigration policy. This lack of experience with immigration policy means that if immigration policy does affect attitudes towards immigrants it would be through exposure and signaling. There is support for policy affecting attitude largely through norm signaling. Studies on gay rights have found support for this effect. What influences (anti) immigrant attitudes? Studies have often focused on individual factors and have found that lower levels of education and lower labor markets skill are a strong predictor for anti-immigrant attitudes. Research on labor market policies have found evidence for an effect on anti-immigrant attitudes whereas support has not been found that welfare policies have as similar effect. There have been a handful of studies focusing on immigration policy. Two studies, one looking at the USA and the other Europe, found that immigration policy and political climate during one’s early adulthood effects attitudes towards immigrants later in life. In terms of the immediate effects of policy on attitudes one study in Israel found only a weak effect, a stronger effect was found in the UK and Ireland, while an effect on behavior but not attitudes was found in Arizona, USA. In Sweden, an effect between policy and attitude was found once media visualization was taken into account. Beyond the public’s attitude, there is evidence from the USA that national policy effects local officials in their behaviors and attitudes. There is the concern that pro-immigration (or anti-immigration) policies create a backlash leading to increase in voting for populist voting however, there is little evidence to support this claim, at least in Europe. The anti-immigrant rhetoric of political figures appears to have an effect in increasing anti-immigrant attitudes of the public but these effects are short-lived. The rise of populist parties within Europe have often been linked to rises in anti-immigrant attitudes however, the evidence suggests the more important factor is the political activation of pre-existing opposition immigration. Instead of looking at overall attitude, one study looked at how integration policies effected perception of economic and cultural threat. The results suggested that more inclusive integration policies were correlated with lower perceptions of economic threat and had no effect along the cultural dimension. If public attitudes affect policy and policy affects public attitudes, then there is a feedback effect. One of the main theories in the public opinion/attitude and policy literature is the thermostatic model, which posits that the public behaves like a thermostat as they respond to increasingly liberal policies by becoming more conservative, and vice-versa. These changes in public opinion then inform the political system. Thus, opinion and policy are reciprocally causal, they feed back on each other. This model has most often been used in policies where there is a clear output such as money spent on welfare. While not originally conceived for policies without such a direct output, it is still used. Studies that measure this feedback between policy and attitudes are scarce as the data required for this analysis is rare. Large-scale surveys on attitudes tend not to be longitudinal. There are statistical methods that can estimate the feedback effect without longitudinal data. The simultaneous feedback model (SFM) is one such model. My research will use SFM to help shed light on the feedback effect between immigration policy and (anti) immigrant attitudes.