A nativist divide? Anti-immigration attitudes and diffuse support for democracy in Western Europe
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionEuropean Journal of Political Research. 2022. 10.1111/1475-6765.12551
Earlier research has shown a strong connection between anti-immigration attitudes and political trust in Western Europe. In this research note, we examine if nativists’ low levels of specific political support translate into a more general scepticism about democracy as a system of government. Using comparative data from the European Social Survey (ESS) and the European Values Study (EVS), we investigate the relationship between nativist attitudes and several indicators of principled, or diffuse, support for democracy. The findings testify to a nativist divide in diffuse political support. We find a systematic and significant difference in support for democracy between strong nativists and other citizens. West European nativists are less likely than other citizens to view their country as democratic. They also tend to perceive living in a democracy as less important than people with a more positive outlook on immigrants. Moreover, and maybe more worrying, nativists express lower levels support for democracy in relation to non-democratic regime alternatives, that is, they are less likely to be “principled” democrats. The found negative associations remain also after controlling for nativists’ levels of specific support, which indicates that there may be a more fundamental opposition between nativism and diffuse support for democracy than previously acknowledged. We believe that these findings have important implications for research trying to understand challenges to liberal democracy in a time when nativist parties have been successful in politicizing immigration and continue to score electoral victories all over Europe.