Samuel D. Schmid

Political scientist

Beyond Liberalism: Explaining the Diffusion of Liberal and Illiberal Asylum Policies Across the Globe

Working Paper

Co-authored with Lea Portmann, Frowin Rausis, Joachim Blatter, Philipp Lutz, and Melyssa Piña Sigg, this paper shows how a fresh perspective on policy diffusion - when applied to asylum policies - can lead to important insights that transcend liberalism not only as a topic, but also as an approach to study policy diffusion. 

Over the past decades, tudies in policy diffusion have strongly focused on the spread of liberalism. In this paper, we show how we can expand this focus and overcome biases in the dominant liberal approach to analyze the spread of illiberalism. We do so by testing a novel theory to explain liberal and illiberal regulatory waves in asylum policies. During the liberal wave, many states recognized their responsibility to protect refugees by legally codifying National Asylum Frameworks (NAFs). During the illiberal wave, many among them also started deflecting responsibility towards refugees to other countries by introducing Safe Country Policies (SCPs). Drawing on a novel global dataset, our descriptive analysis shows that both waves surged during the 1990s, also beyond the Global North. Employing event history models and precise measures for our newly proposed and balanced set of diffusion mechanisms, we find that the spread of NAFs can be explained by the exposure to legal authority projected by the EU (which captures more precisely the mechanism formerly labelled “coercion”) and by the introduction of NAFs by ideologically similar governments in other countries (which is more consistent with constructivism than “emulation”). The same applies to Safe Third Country Policies, but this illiberal policy also spreads via strong externalities produced by nearby countries with larger refugee populations (which can capture what has been called “competition”). Expertise (which denotes a specific form of “learning”) does not explain the spread of these asylum policies. We conclude by reflecting on how our approach can help us transcend liberalism in the study of policy diffusion.

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