In an increasingly globalized world, anti-immigrant sentiment has become more prevalent. Competitive threat theory suggests that anti-immigrant attitudes increase when adverse economic circumstances intensify competition with immigrants for scarce resources, but past studies using this approach are inconclusive. In this study, we investigate the impact of the Great Recession on perceived immigrant threat—an index of seven items measuring attitudes toward immigrants—using the 2013 International Social Survey Program
survey. Using multilevel models, we analyze responses from 18,433 respondents nested within 22 countries. We create a country-level measure of the Great Recession Index comprised of four dimensions—the housing crash, the financial crisis, economic decline, and employment loss—and assess its impact on perceived immigrant threat. After controlling for a variety of individual-level and country-level covariates, we find that the Great Recession is positively associated with perceived immigrant threat. We also identify important interaction effects between the Great Recession Index and change in government expenditures, age, educational levels, citizenship, and urbanization. The study contributes to competitive threat theory by showing the effect of the Great Recession in exacerbating anti-immigrant sentiment.
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