Threatened or Threatening? How Ideology Shapes Asylum Seekers’ Immigration Policy Attitudes in Israel and Australia

Abstract:

Can different political ideologies explain policy preferences regarding asylum seekers? We focus on attitudes regarding governmental policy towards outgroup members and suggest that perceptions of threat help to shape these policy attitudes. Study 1 compared public opinion regarding asylum policy in Israel (N ¼ 137) and Australia (N ¼ 138), two countries with restrictive asylum policies and who host a large number of asylum seekers; Study 2, a longitudinal study, was conducted during two different time periods in Israel—before and during the Gaza conflict. Results of both studies showed that threat perceptions of out-group members drive the relationship between conservative political ideologies and support for exclusionary asylum policies among citizens. Perceptions of threat held by members of the host country (the in-group) towards asylum seekers (the out-group) may influence policy formation. The effect of these out-groups threats needs to be critically weighed when considering Israeli and Australian policies towards asylum seekers.

Daphna Canetti | Keren L. G. Snider| Brian J. Hall | Anne Pedersen

Introduction

Over the past two decades, the world has witnessed a radical shift in public perceptions and political reactions to asylum seekers (Suhnan et al. 2012). As the number of asylum seekers has risen, governments of all political leanings have implemented policies designed to deter asylum seekers from entering their countries for the purpose of seeking legal protection as refugees. The result has been an ongoing struggle to balance internal pressures for border control against international law, which aims to create a compassionate and humanitarian environment for individuals who find themselves unable to live safe, secure lives in their home countries (Gammeltoft-Hansen 2011).

An asylum seeker is ‘an individual who has sought international protection and whose claim for refugee status has not yet been determined’ (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2011: 3; UNHCR Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees 2010). According to the UN International Convention on the Rights of Refugees (1951, 1967), an asylum seeker must be afforded protection from harm by a host country while their application is being considered (UNHCR). Until the early 2000s, a number of nations, including Denmark and the Netherlands, maintained flexible immigration laws that gave many asylum seekers access to a generous welfare system. Yet today, across Europe and other Western nations, asylum seekers are often viewed through the lens of the threats they might pose.

In the present study, we examine the role of political ideology (political position or political preference) and threat perception as predictors of different levels of support for exclusionary asylum policies. Building on past research that dealt with threat perceptions (Hartley and Pedersen 2015) and political ideology, the novelty of this research lies in its comparative aspect and the longitudinal study in Israel that was done before and during a period of war. We hypothesize that individuals who subscribe to a more right-wing political outlook will perceive asylum seekers as posing a greater threat than do their compatriots with a more left-wing outlook and, as a consequence, will have a greater tendency to support exclusionary asylum policies.

We examine this hypothesis in two studies. Study 1 employs a comparative framework, examining public opinion towards national asylum policy in two different contexts: among citizens of Tel Aviv, Israel, and Perth, Australia. We followed John Stuart Mill’s most different design (Mill 1970; Seawright and Gerring 2008). This design involves the selection of two cases that are similar in outcome, namely the support for exclusion of asylum seekers, but differ in many of other characteristics. We chose Israel and Australia as two countries that have many differences, but have experienced communal ‘angst’ about asylum seekers.

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