Do (Mainstream) Parties Avoid Talking about Immigration?

According to issue ownership theories, parties should focus on the issues they are considered strong. This is especially true for issues where public preferences tend to go into the same direction (valence issues). In most Western European countries, the public have a preference for maintaining immigration controls or making them more restrictive. The policy alternative of increasing immigration is not politically viable. Does this mean that the parties not owning the issue avoid it?

We examined nearly 200 party manifestos in 6 countries over a period of 20 years. Only 3.6% contained no reference to immigration — parties do not completely avoid the issue. At the same time, unsurprisingly, we find that anti-immigrant parties on average devote nearly three times as many word (in proportion) to the issue than other parties.

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