Dissertation Project

Who Cares About Immigration? Frames, Emotions, and the Social Construction of Immigration Salience

Under what conditions does immigration become more or less politically salient? Immigration salience is something of a phantom phenomenon in contemporary political science—frequently referenced, but rarely explored. Scholars investigating various issues of widely acknowledged importance, including the rise of the radical right, frequently cite immigration salience as a causal force; yet, it often appears as an opaque and static component of the background scenery, rather than as the lead protagonist on center stage. This dearth of research directly investigating immigration salience is surprising given the burgeoning literature on other aspects of public opinion about immigration, including immigration policy preferences and attitudes toward immigrants. While the few extant explanations suggest immigration salience is catalyzed by immigration patterns or the frequency of media coverage, this dissertation proposes that immigration salience is driven by the emotional responses triggered by how political elites frame the issue. Although both anxiety and anger may arise from anti-immigration rhetoric, this dissertation argues that anger is the stronger mediator linking rhetoric to salience. To assess the expectations of the theory, this dissertation adopts a multi- method research design, employing survey experiments, quantitative text analysis, and process tracing within comparative case studies of Italy and Spain. By addressing the micro-, meso-, and macro-level determinants of immigration salience, this dissertation offers a comprehensive theoretical framework to address one of the most hotly-contested political issues of the twenty-first century.

Working Papers

Rhetorical Coercion and Mainstreaming Anti-Immigration Discourse: Why the Far Right Feigns Support for Progressive Causes

Why do far-right parties link their opposition to immigration to progressive causes, such as gender equality and LGBTQ rights? Recent scholarship suggests such progressive appeals are employed to increase these parties’ popular support and to stigmatize Muslim immigrants. Yet, this discursive strategy also challenges the boundaries of permissible political debate and serves as a mechanism for mainstreaming anti-immigration discourse. By emphasizing progressive issues, far-right parties exercise a form of rhetor- ical coercion, which forces mainstream parties to engage in a substantive debate about immigration—or else risk distancing themselves from widely-accepted values and principles. This study illustrates this dynamic by analyzing tweets from political parties in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain. Quantitative text analysis and regression analysis demonstrate how mainstream parties are more likely to engage with anti-immigration arguments grounded on progressive claims than those tied to other issues, such as economic and security concerns. This study contributes to the literature on far-right politics and anti-immigration politics by examining a mechanism through which the far right mainstreams its opposition to immigration.

Voter Satisfaction Under Plurality, Runoff, and Ranked-Choice Voting: The Impact of Come-from-Behind Victories (with Cynthia McClintock)

This article explores voter satisfaction under three distinct electoral rules: plurality, runoff, and ranked-choice voting (RCV). Whereas recent research focuses on satisfaction with the voting process under plurality versus RCV, we focus on satisfaction with electoral results and include runoff as an alternative. In a survey experiment fielded on U.S. voters, we find greater satisfaction under plurality and runoff than under RCV; in particular, satisfaction decreased when RCV yielded a come-from- behind victory. In addition, in actual cases of repeal of the three rules in U.S. jurisdictions and beyond the U.S., we find that repeal of RCV was not rare and was often catalyzed by dissatisfaction with come-from-behind victories. Although dissatisfaction was significantly mitigated by familiarity with RCV, we encourage greater attention by reform advocates to the rationale for come-from-behind victories and to runoff as an alternative to plurality.

European Civilizationism on the Far Right: Reconciling National and Supranational Identities

Why do far-right parties invoke “European civilization” in their discourse? Despite their well-known nationalism and Euroscepticism, far-right parties increasingly engage in civilizational discourse—particularly by highlighting Europe’s Christian heritage, secularism, and liberalism (Brubaker 2017). Yet, this emphasis on a supranational identity category threatens to undermine their otherwise indisputable nationalist profile. This study investigates how the far right reconciles its nationalism and civilizationism by exploring the discourse of four prominent far-right parties in western Europe and their leaders—in France, the National Rally and Marine Le Pen; in Italy, the League, Matteo Salvini, the Brothers of Italy, and Giorgia Meloni; and in Spain, Vox and Santiago Abascal. I find that these parties normalize civilizational discourse through the twin processes of abstraction and embedding. Through abstraction, they link European civilization to general features of a shared heritage that are nonthreatening to particular nationalisms. Through embedding, they localize European civilization by explicitly linking it to nationalist symbols and myths. I demonstrate these patterns using both quantitative and qualitative text analysis techniques on a corpus of these parties’ tweets between April 2019 and March 2021. This study contributes to the growing literature on civilizationism by assessing how the far right invokes this concept and discursively “constructs” European civilization in a way that is both compatible with, but distinct from, particular nationalisms.

Constructing the Migrant ‘Threat’ in France: Xenophobic Frames in the Rhetoric of the National Rally

How do parties frame their opposition to immigration and why does their xenophobic rhetoric change over time? While scholars have devoted considerable attention to investigating anti-immigrant sentiments among citizens, not enough has been done to disentangle the various frames employed by elites to animate public opposition to immigration. To address this gap, this paper introduces a framework to analyze elite rhetoric on immigration. Xenophobic frames tend to be rooted in one of five distinct logics: security, economic, legal-normative, cultural, and civic. These logics are associated with specific threats allegedly posed by immigrants and are communicated by elites through a rhetorical process of identity ascription. Reflecting the insight of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, parties tend to favor frames that concentrate on material threats, rather than nonmaterial threats. Nevertheless, they may vary their xenophobic rhetoric in response to the political news cycle, particularly when using less common frames enhances their issue ownership. The dynamics of this process are illustrated through an analysis of tweets from the French National Rally. This study uncovers considerable variation in elite xenophobic rhetoric and provides a framework to underpin future research.

The Impact of Runoff on Political Inclusion: Insights from Europe and Latin America (with Cynthia McClintock)

Do runoff elections disadvantage women, ethnic minorities, and people of color? Although runoffs have been found to promote ideological moderation and enhance democratic legitimacy, some scholars contend that they also limit the opportunities for women and members of distinct ethnic or racial groups to win elected office. Given the widespread use of runoffs in presidential elections around the world, such a negative impact on political inclusion would considerably detract from this rule’s otherwise beneficial effect. This study assesses the impact of the runoff rule on the electoral inclusion of women, ethnic minorities, and people of color in presidential elections across Latin America and Europe. Analyzing results from more than 200 presidential elections in 36 countries from 1990 to 2020, we find that runoff is not associated with worse inclusion for either women or ethnic minorities and people of color. We further investigate the impact of electoral rules on political inclusion through a qualitative analysis of cases from both regions. This study advances our understanding of this issue by assessing the impact of runoff on women, ethnic minorities, and people of color across temporally and regionally varied cases.

Public Scholarship

Ranked-Choice Voting, Runoff, and Democracy: Insights from Maine and Other U.S. States (with Cynthia McClintock)

This research takes advantage of the recent implementation of ranked-choice voting (RCV) in Maine to compare three alternative electoral rules—RCV, runoff, and plurality—at the federal level. Across a set of 12 competitive 2020 federal elections, the electoral arena in Maine under RCV was more open to new parties and candidates than elsewhere under runoff or plurality, and one candidate broke the national pattern of ideological polarization. Yet, in the context of Maine’s political history, these gains were modest. Further, RCV has been fiercely opposed by Maine’s Republican Party, especially after the 2018 congressional election, in which a Democratic candidate unseated a Republican incumbent in a “come-from-behind” victory. (In a come-from-behind victory under RCV, the winner of the first-preference votes loses after the allocation of additional-preference votes.) In a survey experiment assessing American voters’ satisfaction with the three electoral rules, many voters did not understand the problem of an election won by a candidate without majority support; and, they were much less satisfied with a come-from-behind victory under RCV than under runoff. The results suggest advantages for runoff versus RCV and challenges in the implementation of RCV—but challenges that can be addressed through greater familiarity and understanding of the new rule.