For every action a reaction? The polarizing effects of women's rights and refugee immigration: A survey experiment in 27 EU member states

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Building on research on cultural threat-induced polarization, we investigate the effect of the individual-level salience of cultural threats on polarization between social liberals and conservatives. In a unique survey experiment conducted with 129,000 respondents nested in 208 regions in 27 European Union (EU) member states, we manipulate the presence of two cultural threats, women's rights, and refugee immigration, to test their polarizing effects on social liberals’ and social conservatives’ support for traditional values. We find that priming the threat of refugee immigration polarizes conservatives and liberals equally. Yet, introducing the salience of women's rights leads to lower preferences for traditional values, particularly among more liberal respondents. Our findings demonstrate: 1) the study of backlash should distinguish individuals by their predisposition to backlash, rather than studying the population as a whole; and 2) social conservatives’ backlash should be studied conjointly with social liberals’ counter-reactions to backlash. Future research may investigate why different cultural threats provoke different reactions.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Political Research
Number of pages21
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 15.02.2024

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We wish to thank participants of the 10th Laboratory for Comparative Social Research International Workshop, members of the GEPOP research group at Gothenburg University, participants of the 2021 IPSA and NOPSA conferences, Olle Folke, Hanspeter Kriesi, Violetta Korsunova and the three anonymous reviewers along with the EJPR editors for valuable comments. Charron acknowledges partial funding by RJ sabbatical (SAB20‐0064), Wenner‐Grenstiftelserna (SSv2020‐0004), Vetenskapsrådet (no. 2019‐02636).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Authors. European Journal of Political Research published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of European Consortium for Political Research.

    Research areas

  • cultural threats, polarization, refugee immigration, survey experiment, women's rights
  • Politics