Migration flows and the rise of far Right-Wing political parties in Europe

Tufts Public Opinion Lab
5 min readMay 16, 2024

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By Meg Grieve (’24), Jack Steen (’24), Ava Vander Louw (’24), and Imanol Varela Parrilla (’24)

Note: This is one of a series of guest posts from students in the Tufts Political Science Research Methods course.

Europe has long been renowned as a mosaic of diverse and rich cultures, attracting immigrants from every corner of the globe. However, in recent years, the continent has witnessed a pronounced surge in migrant inflows coinciding with the simultaneous rise of far right-wing nationalism. In 2000, 6% of the population of the European Union were migrants compared to 8.5% in 2022. This is a significant uptick and has sparked intense debates among policymakers, scholars, and the public alike, prompting a critical examination of the intricate relationship between immigration levels and the rise of far right-wing parties in the realm of European domestic politics, such as Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany, or AfD), Spain’s Vox, and Sweden’s Sverigedemokraterna (Sweden Democrats).

Understanding this is crucial as it informs immigration policies, integration strategies, and efforts to combat extremism. Additionally, noting Europe’s demographic challenges with an aging population and declining birth rates, some have touted increased immigration flows as a solution to economic woes. However, the rise of right-wing nationalism poses an obstacle to embracing immigration as a solution.

Our research endeavors to disentangle this complex relationship by analyzing data from select European Union member states: Hungary, Sweden, Italy, Poland, Spain, and Germany. We anticipated that an increase in immigration would correlate with a heightened support for far right-wing ideologies in elections at the domestic and European parliament level across all six countries. This hypothesis is rooted in domestic concerns over cultural identity, economic competition, and security that often underpin anti-immigration sentiments and drive support for far right-wing political movements in these nations.

To test our hypotheses, we used datasets from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and ParlGov. We merged these datasets and used a regression analysis, aiming to discern patterns in the relationship between immigration and the burgeoning prevalence of far right-wing parties in elections across the six selected countries. We controlled for various confounding variables, including election type, year, and country, thereby ensuring a comprehensive analysis of the phenomenon at hand.

Our regression analysis of the relationship between immigration levels and the surge of far right-wing nationalism in six EU member states since 2000 produced a positive coefficient for the relationship (.000008327), aligning with our hypothesis. Each additional immigrant entering a country is associated with a predicted increase in far right-wing vote share by .000008327 percentage points, marking a positive relationship between the two. However, the results did not yield statistical significance at a .05 alpha level (p = .1053) when controlling for year, type of election (domestic parliament or EU parliament), and country selected.

Nevertheless, our analysis was still able to produce statistically significant results. A p-value of .0117 for Hungary indicates that Hungary has a statistically significant difference in vote share (13.79 percentage points higher) than the reference country in our model, Germany. A p-value of .0371 for the “Election Year” variable with a positive coefficient of .2984 indicated that there is a statistically significant increase in far right-wing vote share across all six selected countries’ domestic and EU parliament elections since 2000, of approximately .2984 percentage points per year.

The implications of our research help us better understand the dynamics at play within contemporary European politics. While our study did not establish a statistically significant causal link between immigration and the surge of right-wing nationalism, it reveals the complexity of voter behavior and the myriad of factors shaping political and electoral landscapes. Economic instability, regional tensions, and nationalist sentiments emerged as significant influences, suggesting that immigration alone may not solely account for the ascendance of far right-wing parties, but that the phenomenon may be due to a plethora of co-aligning factors.

Looking ahead, our study highlights the urgent need to further investigate these complex dynamics between immigration and political ideologies, especially in the context of evolving socio-economic and geopolitical landscapes. A deeper exploration of the underlying factors driving voter behavior and the impact of immigration on societal cohesion is essential to formulate effective policy responses and foster inclusive societies in Europe.

In all, our research unravels the complex tapestry of European politics, shedding light on the nuanced relationship between immigration and the rise of right-wing nationalism. As we navigate the complexities of contemporary Europe, it becomes imperative to explore additional dimensions beyond our current scope. Future studies could delve into the impact of media framing on public perception of immigration, or examine the role of economic inequality in shaping attitudes towards migrants. In addition, other factors could include countries’ geographic location; the country of origin, native language, education history, and number of immigrants arriving; and the existing domestic politics of the countries, including recent economic changes and the freedom of the country’s media.

Furthermore, qualitative research methods offer a unique opportunity to enrich our understanding by delving into the nuanced lived experiences of migrants and their intricate interactions with host communities. Embracing a diverse range of methodologies, including ethnography, interviews, and participant observation, would allow for a comprehensive exploration of the multifaceted dynamics shaping European societies. This holistic approach not only provides a more nuanced understanding of migration and its impact but also sheds light on the broader socio-political context in which these dynamics unfold, thereby enhancing the depth of our analytical insights. Moreover, embracing these methodologies creates acceptance and empowers marginalized voices within research, contributing to a more comprehensive and accurate analysis of migration patterns and their implications for societal cohesion. By centering the perspectives of migrants and engaging with their stories, we can challenge prevailing stereotypes and foster empathy and understanding within host communities, further enriching our analytical endeavors. Incorporating qualitative research methods into our study not only enhances the robustness of our findings but also contributes to a more inclusive and empathetic discourse surrounding migration and nationalism in Europe and beyond, thus strengthening the analytical foundations upon which effective policy responses can be formulated.

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Tufts Public Opinion Lab

The Tufts Public Opinion Lab (TPOL) is dedicated to studying contemporary controversies in American public opinion using quantitative data analysis.