We spoke to them about their recent paper “How Parties Take Advantage of Immigrant Waves: The Case of Venezuelan Migrants in Chile,” which examines the institutional and political contexts that lead right-wing parties to incorporate Venezuelan immigrants into society in Chile. They found that using a negative identity appeal regarding the Venezuelan regime aligns the preferences of Chilean right-wing parties’ core constituency with those of Venezuelan immigrants. We asked the authors about the intervention and findings from this project.
What is the current state of integrating Venezuelan immigrants into Chilean political life?
In Chile, migrants have easy access to the right to vote. An immigrant is automatically incorporated into the electoral registry five years after receiving their first temporary residence visa. Since 2017, the number of Venezuelans with temporary and permanent visas has increased steadily. From our fieldwork, we learned that Chilean and Venezuelan politicians expect the number of Venezuelan voters in Chile for the next electoral period to be significant. Thus, they expect they will become an important constituency, mainly in some districts of the Metropolitan Region of Santiago with a high concentration of migrant voters.
You focus on right-wing political parties in Chile in this study and suggest that they may substantially benefit from seeking the votes of Venezuelan immigrant populations. What are some ways in which they may benefit?
Venezuelan immigrants are sensitive to anti-Chavista appeals, given their traumatic experience with the Chavista regime. Consequently, right-wing parties might mobilize Venezuelans by adopting foreign policy stances against the Venezuelan government. Our results suggest that this negative identity is a potent stimulus for political mobilization among Venezuelans.
It is important to highlight that such a foreign policy position profits from the negative identity these regimes produce against left-wing parties, not only among migrants but also among national voters. This allows right-wing parties to avoid a trade-off between incorporating a specific group of migrants and the distributive and immigration policy preferences of the party’s core constituency of nationals. The trade-off usually posited in studies of right-wing parties is not present in this case.
For Chilean right-wing parties, deploying an anti-Chavista foreign agenda does not contradict the interests of the parties’ (non-immigrant) core constituency. Even more, right-wing parties politicize and capitalize on the negative identity that Venezuelans and Chilean right-wing voters developed against the Left.
In short, right-wing Chilean parties can mobilize Venezuelan voters without conflicting with the interests of right-wing Chilean voters. This is possible because of the combination of two factors: low barriers for migrants to obtain voting rights and the shared aversion among Venezuelans and rightist voters towards leftist parties and the Chavista regime.
For your intervention, you implemented a mixed methods approach to understand Chilean right-wing parties’ strategies and assess their efficacy in increasing Venezuelan immigrants’ political participation. Can you elaborate on your approach, and why you chose these methods?
We combined qualitative and experimental analysis to describe and explain the parties’ strategies and their efficacy in mobilizing Venezuelan immigrants with anti-Maduro claims. We conducted a process-tracing analysis to evaluate our hypotheses regarding the factors that push right-wing parties to mobilize migrants. Also, we designed a survey experiment to assess the impact of anti-Chavista policy appeals addressed to Venezuelan immigrants in Chile.
The sampling method we used for the experimental survey was respondent-driven sampling (RDS). In this method, the sampling starts with a limited number of individuals who are asked to recruit a small number of their contacts. Each surveyed individual is subsequently allowed to recruit additional target population members until a pre-established sample size is achieved. We decided to use RDS for two main reasons. First, this sampling method is employed to overcome challenges with sampling hard-to-reach human populations, such as migrants. Second, statistical methods exist to approximate the sampling mechanism, thus making it possible to perform statistical inference cautiously.
We chose the combination of these two approaches because our theoretical argument has implications for both the political supply and demand side. On the one hand, we seek to understand whether right-wing Chilean politicians perceive the massive migrant wave of Venezuelans to their country as a political opportunity and whether they are seeking to mobilize this migrant group. To that end, we needed to gather qualitative evidence that allowed us to observe politicians’ perceptions and strategies. On the other hand, our argument also implies that Venezuelans in Chile are politically sensitive to anti-Chavista appeals of right-wing political parties. The survey experiment aimed to assess this hypothesis.
Why is a negative identity appeal toward the leftist Chavista regime in Venezuela more salient to the immigrants in the study than appeals to other right-wing programmatic preferences?
Venezuelans arriving in Chile come from a particular context. Venezuela’s political and socioeconomic crisis has generated an unprecedented exodus, resulting in massive migratory waves, especially to Latin American countries. Thus, the political experience of Venezuelan migrants connects to an anti-Chavista sentiment, a negative identity.
While the experiment showed that Venezuelans are mobilized by anti-Chavista appeals, the qualitative strategy provided evidence that sheds light on the mechanism. Our findings suggest that past traumatic political experience generates a profound aversion among Venezuelans to anything resembling the Chavista regime.
In addition, from our interviews, we learned that not all Venezuelans in Chile are ideologically aligned with the Right but would prioritize their anti-Chavista sentiment over programmatic appeals. For example, an interviewee told us that LGBTQIA+ Venezuelans would prefer to live under a regime that opposes LGBTQIA+ rights than to live under a communist regime again.
What are the implications of these findings for right-leaning political parties in countries with large immigrant populations?
The migrant population is heterogeneous. Migrant groups may have diverse political preferences and interests that are not only driven by migrant concerns. Even more, their preferences may align with right-wing preferences. Also, the migrant population may be politically active and not necessarily indifferent to politics in the host country. This holds even when obtaining the right to vote is harder than in Chile. Our findings suggest that when there is a cross-cutting interest in the migrant community, and there are political parties capable of appealing to that interest, immigrants may be willing to support that party at the ballot box and volunteer in its campaigns.
Is there anything that leftist political parties can learn from these findings?
The implications of our study are also valid for leftist parties. There is no necessary elective affinity between being a migrant and preferring leftist parties. If left-wing parties want to capture the migrant vote, they should also acknowledge that this is a heterogeneous population with diverse interests. Leftist parties may also face new challenges regarding foreign policy. In particular, they may face the dilemma of either condemning a leftist government they have traditionally supported or failing to attract a politically active migrant community in their country.