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Did the Murder of Theo van Gogh Change Europeans' Immigration Policy Preferences?



To what degree are preferences determined by fundamental and stable value orientations, or are they vulnerable to exogenous shocks to issue saliency? We exploit that the second round of the European Social Survey was conducted around the time when Mohammed Bouyeri murdered Theo van Gogh on 2 November 2004. The murder was covered extensively across Europe and led to a debate about the impact of mass immigration. We consider the murder as a natural experiment which allows us to explore how a shock to issue saliency affects immigration policy preferences. We compare preferences of those interviewed right before the murder (control group) with those interviewed right after the murder (treatment group). We find robust evidence of a significant treatment effect in a pooled analysis with country fixed effects. However, when we allow the treatment effect to vary across countries, we find evidence of more support for restrictive policy in only three countries (Norway, Spain, and Slovakia).

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