School of Social and Political Science

SPS academics’ new research examines migration narratives in political debate and policymaking



BRIDGES logo, alongside headshots of Christina Boswell and Saskia Smellie


School of Social and Political Science (SPS) academics Professor Christina Boswell and Dr Saskia Smellie have released a study on how migration narratives – the stories people tell about the causes and impacts of migration – shape and are deployed in political debate and policymaking.  

Professor Boswell and Dr Smellie, who work in the Politics and International Relations subject area in SPS, led a comparative study of migration narratives in six European countries – France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom – over a 10-year period. 

The study highlights the media’s focus on politicians in coverage of migration issues, emphasising the relationship between media narratives and political debate. However, it found that the most divisive and populist narratives emerged in parliamentary debate and, contrary to expectations, were frequently reflected in policy. 

The study also found that contrary to most existing literature, media did not always steer governments in a more restrictive direction; rather, media narratives could also influence governments to adopt a more humanitarian approach. The exceptions to this were Hungary and the UK, where media and political narratives were more closely aligned. 

Further findings include that, despite increased politicisation and polarisation in recent years, the public is less concerned about immigration as an important issue facing their countries than a decade ago and that public opinion on immigration has remained stable or become more positive over the last ten years.

Professor Boswell and Dr Smellie released two papers detailing their findings - a Comparative Report and a Policy Brief

The research was part of BRIDGES, a project funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme and implemented in 12 institutions across Europe. BRIDGES aims to understand the causes and consequences of migration narratives in the context of increased politicisation and polarisation in many European countries in recent years. The project was completed in February 2024, and the main findings were presented at a conference in Brussels.