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The Ukrainian Refugee Crisis and the Politics of Public Opinion: Evidence from Hungary

Picture of Thomas Pepinsky smiling in a blue checkered button-up shirt and black rimmed glasses.
Wednesday, January 11, 2023, 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

As part of the Evidence-based Policymaking Seminar (EBPM) Series, the Department of Public Policy brings you Professor Thomas Pepinski's guest lecture.

Thomas Pepinski is a Professor of Government and Director of the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell, and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brooking Institution. He will be discussing the research in which Adam Reiff (CEU) and Krisztina Szabo (CEU) are collaborating.

Coffee and snacks will be offered during event. 


The 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine is a watershed moment in European politics. An immediate consequence of the invasion was a massive influx of refugees into Central Europe, a region in which immigration has proven highly contentious and politically salient over the past thirty years. We study public opinion towards refugees in Hungary, a highly exclusionary political environment in which anti-migrant and anti-refugee sentiments are commonly invoked by the ruling government. Combining historical public opinion data from the past decade with original survey data collected in April 2022, we demonstrate that the Ukrainian refugee crisis was accompanied by a large increase in tolerance for refugees, reversing what had previously been one of the most anti-refugee public opinion environments in Europe. To explain this reversal, we use a series of survey experiments to investigate how conflict proximity and racial, religious, and national identity (three manifestations of what we term civilisational characteristics) shape openness to refugees. We find that the distinguishing feature of the 2022 refugee crisis was that refugees were mostly white European Christians driven from their home country by conflict. We discuss the implications of our argument for Hungary, for European politics in times of crisis, and for the politics of public opinion in competitive authoritarian regimes.


About the speaker

Thomas Pepinsky is the Walter F. LaFeber Professor of Government and Public Policy at Cornell University and a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. He studies the interaction of political and economic systems around the world, with a special focus on Southeast Asia. Recently, he has been thinking about how to relate these systems to social categories. He is also interested in how we construct explanations and make inferences in the social sciences. Thomas is the Director of the Southeast Asia Program at Cornell (SEAP), editor of the Journal of East Asian Studies (JEAS), and co-founder and member of the Executive Board of the Southeast Asia Research Group (SEAREG). He is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Association for Analytical Learning about Islam and Muslim Societies (AALIMS) and the steering committee of the International Political Economy Society (IPES).