Book Project

Emotion and immigration salience

Under what conditions does immigration become politically salient? Although scholarly interest in anti-immigration politics has flourished in recent years, there is a surprising lack of research exploring what makes immigration salient for ordinary citizens. In this book project, I argue that emotionally-resonant political discourse plays a critical role in animating immigration salience. Specifically, anger-inducing discourse increases immigration salience more than anxiety-inducing discourse (or emotionally-neutral discourse). This is because anger heightens individuals’ reliance on group-oriented predispositions, such as nationalism and ethnocentrism, drawing attention to immigration as an allegedly urgent “problem” that needs to be “solved.” To empirically assess this argument, I adopt a multimethod approach, incorporating a survey experiment, quantitative analysis of more than a decade’s worth of tweets and survey data, and qualitative case studies of Spain and Italy. The experimental findings suggest that anger has a strong causal effect on immigration salience, especially for right-wing individuals. Furthermore, the quantitative and qualitative evidence demonstrates the consistent relationship between a high frequency of angry anti-immigration discourse and high immigration salience. By improving our understanding of why citizens become concerned about immigration, this project speaks to some of the most prominent debates in political science and important global developments, including the rise of the far right and the resurgence of nationalism.