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The spiral of silence and the asylum crisis in Europe

Conference contribution
Authors Bengt Johansson
Marina Ghersetti
Tomas Andersson Odén
Published in 6th European Communication Research and Education Association (ECREA) Conference. Prague, Czech Republic: 9-12 november
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG)
Language en
Subject categories Media and Communications


The asylum crisis in Europe has been the dominant political issue during the fall of 2015. News all over Europe has covered the escalating crisis, and the political debate has been intense. Numerous news stories have been published about demands for support from the EU to handle the situation in separate countries, calls for solidarity between European countries when accepting refugees, arguments for stricter regulations in the asylum-process, difficulties in managing the asylum seeking process, appeals for protecting the right to seek asylum, and the treatment of refugees. Sweden had until the end of a November an open-door policy toward migrants and expects to receive 190 000 asylum seekers during 2015. The political debate has been intense, with focus on the asylum-seeking process, while at the same time the support for anti-asylum parties has increased. By the end of November, the government (Social Democrats/Green party coalition) declared a policy change resulting in a limitation of the number of accepted asylum seekers to the minimum level required under European Union laws. The theoretical framework of this study is based on the spiral of silence theory which proposes that people are less willing to express their opinion when they believe their beliefs are shared by a inority. We are sensitive to our surrounding social environment won’t speak out if we fear to become socially isolated (Noelle-Neuman 1984, Carrol et al 1997, Neuwirth et al 2007). This framework is used to analyze to what extent people feel they can express their opinion about the asylum crisis. Comparisons are made between expressing opinions to their (1) family and friends, (2) colleagues at work/school, (3) strangers. In order to explain differences in opinions, we use political affiliation, different aspects on how news reported about the asylum crisis and social-demographics (like gender, age, social class and education). The data used was collected by the LORE (Laboratory of Opinion Research) at the University of Gothenburg, using the Citizen Panel ( A sample of 2500 respondents was drawn from the panel (50 000 respondents in total). The sample was stratified (in relation to the Swedish general public) due to age, gender and education level. The web-survey was collected between 26 October and 18 November, with a response rate of 63 percent (1574 answers).

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