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The identifiable victim effect and public opinion toward immigration; a natural experiment study

Odelia Heizler and Osnat Israeli

Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), 2021, vol. 93, issue C

Abstract: The 2010s migrant crisis cost the lives of many immigrants on their way to Europe. In 2015 alone, about 3,800 immigrants and refugees died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on board of large vessels or small floating boats. Among those tragic incidents, two specific occurrences are investigated here: over the course of a week in April 2015, about 1,200 people drowned in two consecutive events after their boats capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. Later that year, on September 2nd, Alan Kurdi, a 3-year-old Syrian boy, tragically drowned. We used these two incidents to investigate the “identifiable victim effect” on public opinion toward immigrants using a natural experiment framework, based on the timing of the European Social Survey in Portugal. Results showed that the tragic drowning of an identified child can affect a change in public sentiment, in contrast to the drowning of more than a thousand statistical victims. We also examined the temporal pattern and duration of the effect on public sentiment, and found that the impact of Alan Kurdi's death lasted for a little over a month and significantly abated, with public sentiment returning to the same level of opposition to immigration as before the incident.

Keywords: Public opinion; Identifiable victims; Portugal; Anti-immigration attitudes; European Social Survey (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2021
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DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2021.101713

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