Working paper on Welfare Chauvinism: Refugee Flows and Populist-Right Parties

Dr Krishna Vadlamannati and Grace Kelly have uploaded a working version of an article called “Welfare Chauvinism? Refugee Flows and Electoral Support for Populist-Right Parties in Industrial Democracies” to the SSRN webpage.


In this paper we examine whether refugee flows are associated with an increase in electoral support for populist-right parties. The empirical evidence on this so far remains mixed. We argue that refugee inflows alone are an inaccurate predictor of the success of populist-right parties. Rather, refugee inflows can lead to a rise in electoral support for populist-right parties where traditional welfare states are expansive—the so called ‘welfare chauvinism’ argument, wherein natives already dependent on high levels of social welfare are likely to see refugees as interlopers who free-ride on welfare and thereby threaten the welfare of locals. Using panel data on 27 OECD countries during 1990–2014 period (25 years), we find no evidence to suggest that refugee inflows per se increase electoral support for populist-right parties. However, a positive effect of refugee inflows on electoral support for populist-right parties is conditional upon a higher degree of social welfare and unemployment benefit spending, which supports the propositions of ‘welfare chauvinism.’ Moreover, support for populist-right parties increase when the degree of labor market regulations and welfare spending is high. Our results are robust to alternative data, sample and estimation techniques.

Keywords: refugee flows, welfare state, and populist-right