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Public opinion and migration: the case study from Slovenian perspective

Živa Broder (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Sciences)
Simona Zavratnik (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Sciences)
Rebeka Falle Zorman (University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Social Sciences)

Keywords: Political behavior, participation and culture


The predominant response of European Union countries to current migration movements has been a policy of classification of migrants into more wanted/legitimate and less wanted/legitimate, legal/illegal, “real” refugees or “just” economic migrants. Despite the fact that migration is a historical reality in the European space, EU countries have predominantly reacted to new migratory realities by creating and intensifying the image of migrants as the cultural other and as a threat to European traditional cultural values.
In our contribution, based on empirical results of Slovenian public opinion, captured in European Social Survey (ESS). We analyze some of the fundamental trends in the public perception of migration issues, migrants and refugees in the period from 2002 to 2016.
The purpose is to give some answers to the question of how major events such as the economic crisis (2008) and so called “refugee crisis” (2015) affected the formation of public opinion through the interpretation of differences between different time measurements. In our analysis we focus on three dimensions on the axis “migration – borders – public opinion”: 1. the question of social boundaries, categorization of "us and them" and the exclusion of migrants from “us-communities”, 2. ambivalence of differences in attitudes towards economic and cultural dimensions of integration of migrants and 3. the question of global vs. locally specific migration, paying attention to the context of global social inequalities.
In the case study, we observed different social crises for the Slovenian context, for which we assume that the public opinion is unified in a fairly monolithic position towards migrants as "the others". The analysis of data from the Slovenian public opinion has shown that public opinion certainly responds to various social crises; with important difference noted in attitudes toward migrants/refugees in case of so called “migration crisis” in 2000/2001 and the “refugee crisis” in 2015 compared to the economic crisis in 2008.
Further, we find that public opinion is consistently covered with cycles of social crises, with the attitude towards migrants linked to a greater or lesser presence of migrants in society; this is "on our land" or "on our borders". Speaking from another point of view, when public policies respond to the presence of migrants/refugees with fears and moral panics, they contribute to the creation of a "crisis situation" in the public. Consequently, public opinion reacts according to the mediated conflicting ideas. We find that public opinion is quite synchronized with political perception of migration as a “crisis”, with the crucial context being the national (or European) border.
The data further shows that public perceptions follow public policies that classify migration through conventional categories of more or less wanted or legitimate, thereby further consolidating these dichotomies in public discourse. The synchrony of public policies and responses of public opinion is not surprising, on the contrary, it informs us that contemporary migration, asylum and refugee policies are successfully transformed from political arena into public opinion.