Sunday, 16 October 2016

Which asylum seekers do Europeans want?

The latest issue of Science has an interesting article by Kirk Bansak, Jens Hainmueller, and Dominik Hangartner (all Stanford; Hangartner is also at London School of Economics) on the topic of European attitudes towards asylum seekers (sorry I don't see an ungated version anywhere). What caught my attention was the method employed.

Most studies of attitudes to migrants (or refugees, or asylum seekers) would simply ask a straightforward question measured on a Likert scale. Bansak et al. instead use a conjoint experiment method (which is very similar to discrete choice modelling, which I've written about before). They explain:
To provide such an assessment, we designed a conjoint experiment and embedded it in a large-scale online public opinion survey that we fielded in 15 European countries...
Conjoint experiments ask subjects to evaluate hypothetical profiles with multiple, randomly varied attributes and are widely used in marketing and, increasingly, in other social science fields to measure preferences and the relative importance of structural determinants of multidimensional decision-making... Specifically, we used a conjoint experiment to ask 18,000 European eligible voters to evaluate 180,000 profiles of asylum seekers that randomly varied on nine attributes that asylum experts and the previous literature have identified as potentially important... This design allows us to test which specific attributes generate public support for or opposition to allowing asylum seekers to stay in the host country and how this willingness varies across different groups of eligible voters, countries, and types of asylum seekers.
This is actually a very cool idea, and implemented in a very large sample size (conjoint experiments are more often run with samples in the hundreds, but here they have 18,000). The findings are many, and I encourage you to read the paper (if you have access). Here's what the authors say:
The results demonstrate that European voters do not treat all asylum seekers equally. Instead, the willingness to accept asylum seekers varies strongly with the specific characteristics of the claimant. In particular, preferences over asylum seekers appear to be structured by three main factors: economic considerations, humanitarian concerns, and anti-Muslim sentiment.
To summarise, they found that doctors, teachers, and accountants were more acceptable as asylum seekers than 'lower' occupations like cleaners, who were in term more acceptable than the unemployed. Language skills were important, with much lower acceptance of asylum seekers who had 'broken' or no host-country language skills. Asylum seekers who applied because of political, religious, or ethnic persecution were much more acceptable than those who applied because of economic opportunities. The vulnerable (e.g. torture victims) were also more acceptable as asylum seekers. Religion mattered a lot - Christians were most acceptable, agnostics less so, and Muslims least of all. Female asylum seekers were preferred over males, and younger asylum seekers were preferred over older asylum seekers. Country of origin didn't appear to matter nearly as much as the other factors above.

The results (in terms of the factors associated with asylum seeker acceptability) didn't appear to differ much between the 15 countries included in the study, nor did they vary much by education (of the survey respondents), income, or age. Those might be the most surprising results of all.

[HT: David McKenzie at Development Impact]

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