International migration is a global phenomenon, widely studied in the literature. An important but less investigated issue concerns the role of immigration for the political preferences of the natives, who often have strong views and prejudices on the issue. These feelings are likely to be among the determinants of residents’ political choices at the polls. At the European institutional level the issue is even more important, since immigration policy is at the core of the debate on the future of the European Union. Interestingly, parties that are against the Euro area and that are proposing an exit strategy for their countries are often associated with protectionist views on immigration. The Front National in France, the Dutch Freedom Party and the Italian Lega Nord (Northern League) offer some examples of these combined political positions.
A recent IZA discussion paper by Guido Barone, Guido De Blasio, Alessio D’Ignazio and Paolo Naticchioni analyzes the role of immigration in shaping electoral outcomes in the case of Italy, where immigration increased rapidly in the last two decades. As reported by an Italian newspaper, of the first ten family names entered at the register office of Milan in 2012, three were originally from China; the second most recorded being the Chinese Hu. The most frequently recorded name remains Rossi, a typical Italian surname. Twenty-five years ago no foreign last name (among the first ten) was recorded at the same office.
The paper investigates the impact of immigrants on the political choices of natives at the national political elections by comparing the voting pattern in about 8,000 municipalities differently exposed to migration flows, in parliamentary national elections of 2001, 2006, and 2008. Two of them (2001 and 2008) were won by the center-right coalition, headed by Silvio Berlusconi. The election of 2006 was, instead, won by the center-left coalition, headed by Romano Prodi. With respect to immigration, the political platforms of the two coalitions were, consistently over the three elections, very different. In short, the center-left alliance had a more open stance, stressing the importance of the immigrants for the prospects of the domestic economy, the duty of solidarity for a high-income country, and the benefits of a multi-ethnic society. On the other hand, the political program of the center-right coalition had a less liberal stance: the emphasis was more on the social problems (e.g. crime and lack of jobs) related to immigration and the threat that people with different backgrounds could pose for the domestic way of life.
The paper finds that a 1% increase in the share of immigrants in a municipality entails a 1.26% increase in the share of voting going to the center-right coalition headed by Berlusconi. Additional findings are: big cities behave differently, with no impact of immigration on electoral outcomes; gains in votes for the center-right coalition correspond to loss of votes for the center-left parties, a decrease in voter turnout, and a rise in protest votes; cultural diversity, competition in the labor market and for public services are the most relevant channels at work.