Bad News for Asylum Seekers: The Impact of Issue Salience on Judicial Decision Making

Abstract

Immigration issues are a top concern among citizens in many European countries. Research shows that the salience of immigration concerns impacts voters’ political behavior, but little is known about whether it affects professional decision makers. This paper theorizes why we should expect asylum decision makers to be influenced by asylum salience and shows that asylum judges are. Drawing on a dataset of all asylum appeals decided in Switzerland 2007 – 2015, I identify a substantial negative effect of issue salience on appeals’ success. Further analyses suggest that rather than leading to strategically chosen decision dates, asylum salience causes judges to deviate from their preferred grant rate in no-salience times and has a larger effect when newspapers cover topics that pertain to drivers of citizens’ anti-immigrant attitudes. These findings indicate that issue salience can present a challenge to the consistency of judicial decisions, even when made by professional judges.

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