The Unexpected Influencer: Pope Francis And European Perceptions Of The Recent Refugee Crisis

This article analyses the impact of non-informative communication on Europeans’ perceptions of European Union (EU) action on the issue of migration. We exploit the fact that Pope Francis’s visit to Lesbos Island in 16 April 2016, overlaps with the days of the interviews for a Special Eurobarometer survey, such that some respondents were unintentionally exposed to the Pope’s speech while others were not. Comparing Catholics and non-Catholics before and after the Pope’s visit in a difference-in-differences setting, we show that the papal message persuaded exposed Catholic individuals that EU action on the issue of migration is insufficient. The effect is temporary and varies according to the demographic characteristics of the respondents and by the country’s share of asylum applicants in 2015. Moreover, media exposure of the Pope’s visit, measured by the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone, was greater in Catholic countries, and this might explain the effect found.

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