This paper investigates the moderating role of public discourse in the effects of labeling asylum seekers on attitudes toward asylum policy. The study relies on a series of survey experiments conducted in Hungary in 2015 and 2016.
Originally, respondents were much more solidaristic toward “refugees” than “immigrants,” but the public discussion on asylum policy suppressed this wording effect—mainly by contaminating the concept of “refugee.”
A major lesson is that the power of words may be overestimated. Choice of words could have a significant effect on the audience when the stakes are low. However, when an issue is high on the agenda, wording alone cannot make up for the lack of deliberative analysis.
What is more, using a “positive” label without creating a strong “positive” frame in a discourse dominated by “negative” frames may risk the contamination of this label.