Populism and Immigration

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Populism and Immigration

June 8, 2018 Workshop | Stanford University
Workshop Overview
  • Workshop Overview
  • Workshop Program
  • Workshop Memos
  • Workshop Logistics

Workshop Overview

This workshop focuses on the relationship between populism and immigration, as part of a larger project on the rise of diverse forms of populisms around the globe.
Global populism is on the rise.The defining characteristic of such populist parties is a claim to represent an “organic” people or nation, rather than specific interests or groups. Such representation has two deeply worrying implications: first, the nation has to be defined, usually in nativist terms. This means renewed efforts to exclude vulnerable groups from the definition of the “people.” This is majority rule without minority rights. Second, those who disagree with populist representation of “the people” are obviously not the “real” nation. The opposition (whether elite or popular) is by definition treasonous and treacherous—and should be summarily dealt with.
Not surprisingly, then, many populists view immigrants as both a cultural and an economic threat to the “people,” and have rallied support around policies designed to limit immigration, preserve cultural homogeneity, and reduce the economic strain produced by immigrants. Concerns about the enforcement of existing immigrations laws, and about the integration and assimilation of immigrants into their new home countries are shared more broadly—but they are often also exploited by populist politicians as evidence of the corrupt elite status quo, and the need to redefine the nation.
We seek to examine four facets of the resulting relationship between populism and immigration:
1. The political economy of immigration and integration.
Critics of immigration, populist and otherwise, view it as posing unfair economic competition: whether foreign PhDs, undocumented domestic and service workers, or the undercutting of wages and job availability. In addition, populist parties (among others) often charge that immigrants overuse and strain the welfare states of recipient countries.
Here, how do populists (in or out of office) influence the political economy of immigration? Which immigrants pose labor market competition, where, and how? Have populist parties and actors benefited from the resulting grievances, or have other actors? What is the impact on the welfare state, and where?
2. Immigration as diversity and/ or cultural threat
One of the critical concerns of populist parties is protecting “the people” or “the nation,” defined in historical and homogenous terms. Populist parties frequently criticize immigrant and minority populations for diluting and undermining “the people” and their  well-being: in other words, these populations are a cultural threat to historical identities. At the same time, there is a broader concern with the integration of immigration populations.
How, then, do countries “manage diversity”? What are the new boundaries around citizenship and citizen rights? When is immigration successfully portrayed as an investment in the future, and when is it seen as a cultural threat to national unity, identity, and stability? Is the cultural threat also an economic one, by shifting labor market participation, societal demographics, and the demand for particular welfare services?
3. Partisanship and immigration
European electoral data shows that the rise in immigration flows and the surge in electoral support for populist parties are closely aligned. In the United States, immigration has become an enormously salient political issue, manifested in continuing debates over border security, the enforcement of existing laws, economic competition, DACA, and the legal status of immigrants.
How do political actors use immigration as an electoral issue? How does immigration feed into voting, policies, and partisan shifts? What are the conduits by which immigration influences politics: advocacy groups, political parties, institutions? Does immigration drive polarization—and does polarization produce distinct immigration policies? What are the determinants of the public support for immigration?
4. Immigrant communities
Immigration has changed: when immigrants came to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, they did so from and to specific countries, with strictly controlled quotas and subsequent civic rights. Immigration in the 21st century has come in multinational waves, and individual countries have been less able to manage it using the tools used earlier. EU integration here has meant greater labor mobility, and a far greater backlash against a perceived impotence of domestic governments to manage and control this immigration.
How have the shifting patterns of immigration changed the political, economic, and cultural status of immigrants? What are the strategies of incorporation, political mobilization, and self-protection used by immigrant communities? How has the rise of populism led to new responses by native populations? To what extent can we talk about “immigrant communities” at all, given the shifting nature of immigration, especially to Europe?

Workshop Program

-- 8:30-9:00 AM : Breakfast --

9:00-10:30 AM: Panel 1 -- The Political Economy of Immigration, chaired by Anna Grzymala-Busse

  • Frank Fukuyama, “Disaggregating Opposition to Immigration”
  • Sasha Polakow-Suransky, “Closed Borders, Open Coffers: The Nativist Nanny State and the Rebranding of the European Right”
  • Eric Weinstein, “A Pair of Radical Approaches to Immigration: One Expansionist, One Reductionist”


-- 10:30-10:45 AM: Coffee Break --

10:45-12:15 PM: Panel 2 -- Immigration as a Cultural Threat? - chaired by Francis Fukuyama

  • Patrick Chamorel, “European Public Opinion on Populism, Immigration, and Integration”
  • Alexandra Filindra, “Of Regimes and Rhinoceroses: Immigration, Outgroup Prejudice, and the Micro-foundations of Democratic Decline
  • David Laitin, “Populism: the Muslim Connection”


-- 12:15-1:30 PM: Lunch --

1:30-3:00 PM: Panel 3 -- Partisanship, Regimes and Immigration, chaired by Didi Kuo

  • Sara Wallace Goodman, “Legislating Identity and the Liberal Democratic Dilemma”
  • Zoltan Hajnal, “Trump’s Anti-Immigrant Backlash in a Broader Perspective”
  • Tom Pepinsky, “Colonial Migration and the Roots of Populism in Asia”


-- 3:00-3:15 PM: Coffee Break --

3:15-4:45 PM: Panel 4 -- Immigrant communities as agents and targets, chaired by Mike McFaul

  • Claire Adida, “Becoming Black? Understanding Immigrant Resistance to Assimilation in the US”
  • Elizabeth Cohen “Keeping Immigrants in Line: Queuing Frames and anti-immigrant politics”
  • Justin Gest, “Immigration and the Defense of White Identity”


4:45-5:00 PM: Concluding remarks

-- 6:00 PM: Dinner --


Workshop Logistics

The conference will take place in the 2nd floor conference room of Encina Hall at Stanford University. 

  • Street address. 616 Serra Street, Stanford, CA 94305
  • Getting around campus. View searchable Stanford map for parking, building locations, places to eat, other sites of interest.
  • Contact for participants. For questions regarding conference logistics, please contact Anya Shkurko.

 Contact the Global Populisms Project at: