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 influences voters’ political behavior, but little is known about whether it affects professional decision makers. This paper theorizes why we should expect immigration decision makers to be influenced by immigration salience and shows that asylum judges are. Drawing on a dataset of all asylum appeals decided in Switzerland 2007 – 2015, we credibly identify a substantial negative effect of issue salience on appeals’ grant rate. Further analyses suggest that the effect is less consistent with an explanation that focuses on purely strategic considerations than with one that allows for a short-term hardening of judges’ asylum attitudes. These findings show that issue salience can present a challenge to the consistency of judicial decisions.