Dissertation Project

Immigration and Emotion: How Anger and Anxiety shape 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 discourse, this dissertation argues that anger is the stronger mediator linking rhetoric to salience. This is because anger heightens the group-oriented predispositions, such as nationalism and ethnocentrism, that lead individuals to focus on immigration as an alleged threat. To assess the expectations of the theory, this dissertation adopts a multimethod research design, employing a survey experiment, quantitative text analysis of a decade’s worth of social media data, 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.