Matthias Mader, Harald Schoen
The European refugee crisis, party competition, and voters’ responses in Germany

West European Politics, 2019: 42, issue 1, pp. 67-90
ISSN: 0140-2382 (print); 1743-9655 (online)

Studies show that globalisation creates political potentials that can transform electoral competition in Western societies. The specific process of how these potentials become effective is not completely understood. It is argued in the article that attention-grabbing events can trigger the transformation of electoral competition as they force actors to take clear positions and thereby allow citizens to align their partisan preferences and policy attitudes. The article analyses the case of German parties’ reaction to the arrival of large numbers of refugees at Europe’s borders in 2015/16. Using panel data that bracket this event, it is shown how German citizens responded to party behaviour by changing partisan preferences on the basis of prior immigration attitudes. The so-called refugee crisis may thus have been a critical juncture transforming party competition in Germany. As such, the crisis represents a striking example of how events may focus attention on a new policy dimension and catalyse the evolution of newcleavages.