Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Economics, Racism, and Attitudes toward Immigration in the New Germany

Academic journal article Political Research Quarterly

Economics, Racism, and Attitudes toward Immigration in the New Germany

Article excerpt

A number of different theories have been advanced to explain support for policies which may benefit minority groups. This paper utilizes economic-self interest, traditional racism, and conservative values to explore attitudes of German citizens toward granting political asylum and residency to immigrants. The linear structural relations (LISREL) analysis on a 1991 sample of German citizens suggests that the structure of attitudes is different depending upon which section of Germany (the West or the former German Democratic Republic [GDR]) is considered. East Germans tend to "fuse" traditional racism with conservative values to express a racism argued by "symbolic" theorists while the West Germans tend to separate the concepts, possibly because of the more mature democratic development of West German parties and institutions. In explaining immigration policy, traditional racism tends to dominate the West German model, while economic self-interest partially explains policy attitudes in the former GDR. Still, even in the East, ethnocentrism is a very strong factor in understanding support for restrictive immigration policies. We discuss the implications of the analysis in terms of the literature on American racism and policy reasoning.

Immigration has emerged as a tremendously important issue in nearly all Western nations. Especially crucial is the amount of support citizens are willing to extend in granting citizenship, permits to work, or refugee status in the case of political persecution. Using a 1991 sample of German citizens, this paper explores attitudes toward foreign workers and refugees by employing theories which attempt to explain support or opposition to policies which may benefit minority groups. The chief aim is to explain support for refugee status for those fleeing to Germany and examine the proposition that immigrant workers should be returned to their homelands after their labor is completed.

A number of theories have been advanced which seek to explain attitudes toward policies which may benefit minority groups. First, one may oppose beneficial policies because of economic self-interest. Unskilled workers, those dissatisfied with their economic status, and residents of the economically depressed former German Democratic Republic (GDR) may feel particularly vulnerable to foreign workers and refugees. A second explanation of bigotry is what is sometimes termed "red neck" or traditional racism (Sniderman and Tetlock 1986; Sniderman et al. 1991). Traditional racism consists of crude racial stereotyping which may include beliefs of minority group inferiority as well as expressions of not wanting to associate with a particular group. A final theory is the "symbolic" explanation of bigotry. Developed largely from the American politics literature, this thesis holds that as citizens become more reluctant to express prejudice in overt terms, it sometimes is manifested in conservative parties, ideologies, or policies (Kinder 1986; McConahay 1982). Stating that symbolic racism is a fusion of traditional values and negative racial affect, the symbolic theorists, as a rule, have found a weak linkage between self-interest and hostility to minority groups.

In this article we review theories which bear on sentiment toward immigrant groups and describe attitudes of the public toward them. We then use these theories to test a model of policy preferences toward the immigrants.


Germany has faced the "foreigner" problem on two fronts. First, beginning in the early 1960s, the nation imported hundreds of thousands of guest workers (Gastarbeiter) to compensate for labor shortages, especially in lessskilled employment. Recruitment of new guest workers from non-EEC countries was banned in 1973, but many chose to stay in Germany, bringing their families and becoming de facto immigrants. The largest share of these seemingly permanent guest workers came from Turkey (Booth 1992). …

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