Contact with migrants reduces electoral success of right-wing parties

A new study shows that direct contact between local residents and refugees in municipalities with high numbers of newly arrived migrants leads to less support for far-right parties at the local level.

07/18/2018 · ZEW – Leibniz-Zentrum für Europäische Wirtschaftsforschung · News · Forschungsergebnis · Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaften, Raumwissenschaften

Though the recent wave of migrants arriving in Germany has led to increased support for far-right parties across the country, direct contact between local residents and refugees in municipalities with particularly high numbers of newly arrived migrants leads to fewer votes for right-wing parties at the local level. A joint study by the Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW) in Mannheim and the University of Strathclyde has been investigating the short-term effects of the recent wave of migration on issues such as voting behaviour in Germany.

The ZEW study shows that neither the high numbers of refugees arriving in Germany nor the presence of “primary reception centres” have had any significant effects on the vote share of far-right parties such as the AfD or on voter turnout. There is admittedly an identifiable link between the German government’s migration policy and increased support for far-right parties, with the AfD’s poll numbers rising nationwide following Angela Merkel’s announcement in the autumn of 2015 that Germany would be opening its borders to migrants. However, there is no evidence of greater support for far-right parties in municipalities that received greater numbers of migrants over the observation period compared to municipalities that saw the arrival of fewer migrants.

“Contact with migrants tends to have a negative impact for far-right parties”

Looking specifically at the state of North Rhine-Westphalia as an example, ZEW researchers found that the AfD and other far-right parties had been less successful in developing support in municipalities that received higher numbers of refugees than in municipalities with lower numbers. For every 654 migrants added to the population per 100,000 residents, the AfD lost 0.2 per cent of their share of the vote. “Contact between local residents and migrants therefore has a rather negative impact on the electoral performance of far-right parties,” explains Dr. Martin Ungerer, a researcher in the ZEW Research Group “International Distribution and Redistribution” and co-author of the study. This finding also applies to other anti-migrant parties. In general, municipalities with a higher number of refugees were less likely to vote for parties further to the right on the political spectrum. “However, this doesn’t mean that the refugee crisis hasn’t helped the AfD do well in recent elections. What we can say is that the popularity of these parties is not the result of people having actual contact with migrants,” says Martin Ungerer.


Sabine Elbert
Centre for European Economic Research (ZEW)
Tel.: +49 (0)621 1235-133