Painting All Foreigners With One Brush? How the Salience of Muslims and Refugees Shapes Judgements


  • Lukas Wallrich
  • Keon West
  • Adam Rutland


Attitudes towards foreigners are widely researched, most frequently in survey studies. However, in that context it is often unclear which attitude object respondents have in mind, and thus what their answers refer to. This paper uses a representative sample of 3,195 Germans who reported which groups they think of when thinking about foreigners living in Germany. We found that Germans disproportionately think of groups who are Muslim, and that such salience is associated with more negative attitudes towards “foreigners.” This holds true when controlling for attitudes towards Muslims; in fact, thinking of Muslim groups when thinking about foreigners moderates the relationship between anti-Muslim and anti-foreigner attitudes. The relationships were weaker when respondents think of Turks, a large and long-standing minority in Germany, suggesting an attenuation of the links through familiarity or intergroup contacts. No relationship was found between thinking of refugees and attitudes towards foreigners. Implications for research are discussed, particularly regarding the interpretation of self-reported attitudes towards foreigners and the study of populist strategies.