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Explaining Public Opposition to Refugee Resettlement: The Role of NIMBYism and Perceived Threats

Date: 06/09/2017

Publication: Science Advances

One week after President Donald Trump signed a controversial executive order to reduce the influx of refugees to the United States, we conducted a survey experiment to understand American citizens’ attitudes toward refugee resettlement. Specifically, we evaluated whether citizens consider the geographic context of the resettlement program (that is, local versus national) and the degree to which they are swayed by media frames that increasingly associate refugees with terrorist threats. Our findings highlight a collective action problem: Participants are consistently less supportive of resettlement within their own communities than resettlement elsewhere in the country. This pattern holds across all measured demographic, political, and geographic subsamples within our data. Furthermore, our results demonstrate that threatening media frames significantly reduce support for both national and local resettlement. Conversely, media frames rebutting the threat posed by refugees have no significant effect. Finally, the results indicate that participants in refugee-dense counties are less responsive to threatening frames, suggesting that proximity to previously settled refugees may reduce the impact of perceived security threats.