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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Impact of Political Engagement on Social and Political Tolerance toward Immigrants in Southern Europe


Research in the area of attitudes towards immigration could benefit from a more thorough discussion of the relationship between degrees of political engagement and trust towards specific social institutions and the variance of political and social tolerance towards immigrants. Drawing upon three general theories: realistic group conflict theory, social identification theory, and institutional theory, I further refine a theory of ethnic competition and xenophobia in the Southern European context. I argue that popular attitudes towards immigration are correlated with a set of individual level factors (e.g. perceptions of personal and collective threat, as well as measures of political socialization), which are shaped and determined by the contextual characteristics (e.g. economic conditions and demographic characteristics) as well as the type of institutional environment (e.g. the presence or absence of support towards civic institutions) in which inter-group relations are embedded. The characterization of these institutional environments determine the type of ingroup-outgroup social relations. I first, empirically characterize the type of “civic communities” existing in 50 Southern European regions and then, empirically test its significance in preventing inter-group hostility and the fostering of tolerance towards minority groups. Results show that there is a strong significant effect between trust in institutions (such as NGOS and voluntary organizations) and decreased levels of anti-immigrant sentiment and intergroup conflict in Southern Europe. This paper provides evidence for the widespread effects that local minority group size and types of institutional trust have on political and social tolerance towards immigrants. Furthermore, evidence is provided that anti-immigrant sentiment has an extensive impact in Southern Europeans’ policy opinions. I explore thus the richness of civil society as a definitive characteristic of places and if/how it relates to people’s hostility towards immigrants and immigration policy.

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