Working papers

Blaming migrants doesn’t pay: The political effects of the Ebola epidemic in Italy
Co-authored with M. Boldrini, S. Fiore & R. Zotti
This paper investigates the political consequences of perceived health risks associated with immigration in Italy. We leverage the exogeneity of the 2014 Ebola epidemic, which resulted in almost no cases in Italy but triggered a significant public reaction, with extreme right-wing politicians claiming ongoing immigration could endanger citizens’ health. In a differences-in-differences framework, we examine the changes in the vote share of the main right-wing and anti-immigration party, Lega, across Northern Italian municipalities before and during the Ebola outbreak. Treatment is based on perceived exposure to risk-Ebola immigrants, proxied by the local historical concentration of immigrants from countries affected by Ebola in 2014. Results document a drop in political support for Lega in municipalities with a larger share of risk-Ebola migrants. Our findings, robust to falsification tests and alternative treatment definitions, suggest that strategically exploiting a health crisis to garner support for anti-immigrant policies can eventually backfire.

When Scapegoating Backfires: The Pitfalls of Blaming Migrants for a Crisis
Co-authored with M. Boldrini, W. Sas & R. Zotti
In times of hardship, politicians often leverage citizens’ discontent and scapegoat minorities to obtain political support. This paper tests whether political campaigns scapegoating migrants for a health crisis affect social, political, and economic attitudes and behaviors. Through an online nationally-representative survey experiment in Italy, we analyze the effects of such narratives through information-provision treatments, which include facts also emphasizing the alleged health consequences of ongoing immigration. Results show that narratives associating immigration with health threats do not generate sizeable add-on effects compared to those based on immigration only. If anything, they increase disappointment towards co-nationals, reduce institutional trust, and undermine partisanship among extreme-right supporters. Results are consistent with a theoretical framework where party credibility and support, and institutional trust are influenced by political discourse. Our experiment underpins the prediction that political campaigns based on extreme narratives can be ineffective or socially and politically counterproductive, providing an example of how populism can backfire.

Perceived immigration and voting behavior
Co-authored with D. Bellucci & R. Zotti – R&R at Journal of Economic Geography
A growing number of studies have found significant effects of inflows of migrants on electoral outcomes. However, the role of perceived immigration, which in many European countries is above official migration statistics, is overlooked. This paper investigates the effects of perceived threat of immigration on voting behavior, by looking at whether local elections in Italy were affected by sea arrivals of refugees before the election day. While, upon arrival, refugees cannot freely go to the destination municipality, landing episodes were discussed in the media especially before the elections, thereby influencing voters’ perceptions about the arrivals. We develop an index of exposure to arrivals that varies over time and across municipalities depending on the nationality of the incoming refugees. This index captures the impact of perceived immigration on voting behavior, on top of the effects of real immigration as proxied for by the stock of immigrants and the presence of refugee centers. Results show that, in municipalities where refugees are more expected to arrive, participation decreases, whereas protest votes and support for extreme-right, populist and anti-immigration parties increase. Since these effects are driven by areas with fast broadband availability, we argue that anti-immigration campaigns played a key role.

Culture and contemporary fertility dynamics in Europe
Co-authored with A. Aassve, F. Luppi & L. Mencarini – R&R at Regional Studies
The paper offers a new approach for analyzing the role of culture in contemporary fertility dynamics. Instead of considering the direct impact of culture on fertility, the authors argue that culture matters through its interaction with global trends. The study focuses on one cultural trait, namely generalized morality, which is conceptualized and measured with the values of respect, obedience, generalized trust and control. We limit ourselves to the period between 2000 and 2014, when there were divergent fertility trends in Europe and, in the latter part of this period, the Great Recession and its aftermath. Using Eurostat and OECD macro data for 177 regions in 23 European countries, a series of moderation analyses provide evidence that generalized morality is positively associated with fertility through the expansion of female education and the expansion of child-care services. Our results suggest, too, that generalized morality can sustain fertility in periods of heightened uncertainty. 

Media bias and ethnic discrimination in the workplace: evidence from an experimental hiring task
Co-authored with M. Migheli & D. Bellucci
Media affect people’s opinions about many matters, with effects on individual decision processes. This paper investigates the underexplored link between media bias and workplace discrimination through an artefactual job-market experiment mimicking hiring decisions. Participants are primed with newspaper articles presenting immigration in a positive, negative or neutral way. After the priming, they perform a money-incentivized effort task, generating payoffs based on the productivity of a team that they are required to form. Teammates are hired from a list of candidates containing half native- and half foreign-sounding names, jointly with their productivity levels. The experiment is designed so that a profit-maximizer agent with no taste for discrimination should not care about the ethnic composition of the team. Results show no main treatment effects, with neither (positively/negatively) biased nor neutral information affecting taste-based discrimination. However, analytical thinking plays a moderating role, yet only for people primed with positive media messages. In this condition, reflective participants discriminate less, since they might deem positive media news on immigration more reliable. This implies that nudging deliberative agents with pro-immigration narratives may help in mitigating ethnic-based discrimination in contexts where teamwork is required.

Social Identity and Punishment 
Co-authored with J. Butler & M. Leroch – dormant paper

Bank strategies in catastrophe settings: empirical evidence and policy suggestions
Co-authored with L. Becchetti & S. Castriota – dormant paper