Proximity to resident vs non-resident immigrants and voting behavior
The rise of populist parties all over Europe and the U.S. in the last decade was accompanied in most cases by strong anti-immigration propaganda. We study different mechanisms through which immigration might affect voting, and in particular whether it works through fear (cultural channel) or whether it actually responds to voters' demand for anti-immigration policies (economic channel). To do so we collected detailed data on immigration density around voters' dwellings and run a survey to elicit individual retrospective vote choices of eligible electors in Bologna, a large municipality in Northern Italy municipality over a twenty-year span. Leveraging this newly assembled unique information, we find that living in areas/residential units more densely populated by immigrants overall reduces the willingness to vote for populist parties, although this effect is reversed for low-educated voters. We also find that the elderly are more likely to vote for populist parties when they live close to immigrants. Additionally, by merging our data with geo-referenced information on apartments hosting asylum seekers, whose presence surged in Bologna after 2014, we evaluate whether proximity to resident migrants versus undocumented migrants leads to different political reactions, depending on age and education, among other factors. Overall, our results provide evidence supporting the idea that ''contact'' and ''group conflict'' theories are not mutually exclusive and can both hold true in the same context, for different groups.