Fear of small numbers? Immigrant population size and electoral support for the populist radical right in Switzerland

Effrosyni Charitopoulou, University of Oxford
Javier Garcia-Manglano, University of Oxford

In this paper, we examine the association between contact with migrant populations and support for the populist radical right in Switzerland. Building on group threat and intergroup contact theories, which offer opposing predictions, and drawing on Appadurai's thesis of the ‘fear of small numbers,’ we propose a new theoretical framework to explain this association. We predict that the relationship between the size of the migrant populations and populist radical right voting is non-linear: a small-but-noticeable minority triggers the formation of anti-immigrant attitudes, which soften as the minority grows and people start having meaningful interactions with foreigners. To test these theories, we combine individual-level data from the Swiss Electoral Studies (2011) with municipality-level information from the Statistical Atlas of Switzerland (2010). Mixed-effects multilevel models confirm that individuals in municipalities with a moderate proportion of foreigners are more likely than those with fewer or a greater number of migrants to cast their vote in support of populist radical right parties; this is particularly so for certain stigmatized minorities. We further explore the effect of perceived immigrant threat in moderating these relationships. Keywords: migrant populations; group threat theory; intergroup contact theory; fear of small numbers; Swiss People’s Party

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Presented in Session 62: Migration, politics and welfare states