Do citizens get increasingly concerned about immigration based on their economic anxieties? By now, we know that differences in socio-economic status, political ideology, and ethno-centric values predict differences in immigration attitudes between individuals. Yet, little is known about what makes immigration an important issue over time and whether there is an economic basis for such changes within individuals. Theoretically, I argue that exposure to economic risk and job immobility are related to increasing concerns over immigration in part to due to status anxiety born from the unequally risk-prone job market dynamics, and in another part due to the worse subjective perceptions over economic prospects for the less competitive and immobile workers. Empirically, I propose corrections to how we study economic threat by introducing relative and dynamic dimensions to risk. Distinct from earlier work, I add inequality as a dimension to the study of economic threat and investigate the effect of changing levels of economic risk in addition to the level of risk. I cite evidence using the German Socio-Economic Panel from 1999 to 2016 and find that being relatively worse-off in terms of risk increases worries not only for the working-class who experience disproportionately higher job insecurity but also for middle-class employees. The research contributes to the broader mass politics field by revealing that while increasing risks is a concern for the working-class who remain at their jobs, relatively higher economic risk levels increase the saliency of immigration as an issue for all social classes and labour market trajectories. Overall, the results reveal that it is not only the worse-off in the labour markets that become sensitive to immigration related matters but that all citizens are susceptible to worrying about immigration due to their status anxieties.
Elif Naz Kayran is a PhD candidate in the Department of International Relations and Political Science at the Graduate Institute of Geneva (IHEID) and Visiting Fellow at Nuffield College, University of Oxford, for the academic year 2019-20. Elif holds an MA degree from King’s College London. Entitled ‘Policy Preferences and Political Behaviour of Citizens at Times of Risk Inequalities,’ her PhD project explores the effects of employment risks on public attitudes towards immigration and support for radical right-wing parties. Her work on welfare states and the limits of skill-selective immigration policies has appeared in the Journal of European Social Policy.