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November 23, 2022

Cluster-Seminar Public Finances and Living Conditions

The Long Run Impact of Expulsion of Germans (1944-1950) on Anti-Refugee Voting


November 23, 2022


Karl Popper Room
DIW Berlin
Room 2.3.020
Mohrenstr. 58
10117 Berlin


Li Yang

The political consequences of refugees for receiving countries have received much attention in recent years and have sparked a burgeoning literature. However, evidence on the long-run consequences of refugees is lacking. The expulsion of 8 million Germans (so-called expellees) from Eastern Europe to post-WWII West Germany serves as a natural experiment that allows us to estimate the long-run effects of refugees on far-right voting, violence, and immigration sentiments. Using administrative data, we show the (instrumented) historic settlement of expellees increases far-right voting and violence today, particularly in locations where many of them initially settled and where their characteristics were more mismatched with those of the receiving locality. We turn to survey data to investigate whether this effect is driven by expellees themselves, their offspring, or by non-expelled ‘natives’ who were exposed to them. Creating new expellee and expellee offspring identifiers in the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), we find that first-generation expellees view migrants and refugees significantly more favorably than other Germans, while their offspring hold more hostile views. Natives are only significantly more likely to vote for the far-right and have anti-immigrant/refugee sentiments in locations where expellees experienced higher unemployment in the past. Taken together, our findings suggest that past displacement can have lasting negative effects on attitudes toward migrants through contact, particularly when the displaced were in more dire conditions and were more dissimilar to natives. This effect arises both from the attitudes of refugee offspring and natives.