On 17 and 18 December 2018, ZEW and the Collaborative Research Center SFB 884 “Political Economy of Reforms” jointly organised the workshop “Understanding Policy Preferences Using Experimental Methods”. The event brought together some 40 international scholars from different fields of empirical social sciences to discuss experimental methods for investigating how political preferences and opinions are formed.

About 40 international researchers attended the ZEW-Workshop.
Professor Stefanie Stantcheva on public misperceptions in the debate on immigration and the impact they have on the formation of opinion in modern welfare states.

The workshop featured a number of lectures by researchers from economics, political science and sociology, many of which showed that the provision of information can have a significant influence on public awareness of a specific topic and on how public opinion is formed. This is important because voters often have too little information about the issues on which they should make decisions in democratic processes.

Opinion Formation in the Debate on Immigration

Group picture of the participants of the ZEW and SFB 884 workshop on public opinion.
Participants of the workshop of ZEW and SFB 884 on public opinion.

The keynote speech by Stefanie Stantcheva, a professor of economics at Harvard University, was dedicated to immigration and redistribution. In her most recent research on this topic, which uses information from a large-scale survey experiment involving more than 20,000 participants from six countries, Stantcheva finds that there are substantial misperceptions about migrants. It was shown that respondents usually overestimated the total number of immigrants and often perceived immigrants as economically weaker or culturally and religiously more distant from the native population than they actually are. These biases contribute to the very negative baseline views that respondents have of immigrants, to the extent that simply making them think about immigration during the survey experiment made them support less redistribution. Even the random provision of correct information on the actual immigration numbers and countries of origin or an emotional anecdote about a hard-working immigrant interspersed in the experiment did not effectively change the respondents’ negative attitudes towards immigration and thus did not increase their support for redistributive measures.

ZEW and SFB 884 Offer Platform for Current Research on the Formation of Preferences and Opinions

The presentations of this interdisciplinary workshop offered a wide spectrum of topics, ranging from discrimination, individual cooperation behaviour and fairness attitudes to the support of tax policy and the institutional design of the European Union. In the selection process for the workshop explicit consideration was given to submissions of work-in-progress reports, which provided young scientists with the opportunity to present their experimental designs. A poster session was also organised for this purpose. In line with the objectives of the Collaborative Research Center “Political Economy of Reforms”, the workshop was characterised by its strong interdisciplinary nature and its methodological focus on survey experiments. The SFB 884 is coordinated at the University of Mannheim and investigates obstacles to political reform in welfare states. It is funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The researchers at the SFB come from different disciplines such as economics, political science, sociology and statistics. Several ZEW researchers who are affiliated with the SFB 884 are, for instance, conducting research on the economics of public budgetary policies.

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