Findings from the ESS: Immigration

30/08/17

In our latest article, Professor Anthony Heath and Lindsay Richards of the Centre for Social Investigation (University of Oxford) assess responses to our rotating module on immigration - fielded most recently in Round 7 (2014/15).

Immigration continues to be one of the most topical and pressing political issues in Europe, with voters in many countries rating it high on the political agenda, and new ‘radical right’ political parties (such as the Front National in France) focussed on opposition to migration emerging in many countries.

With continuing high levels of labour migration to many rich western European countries, as well as continuing pressure to accept asylum seekers from war zones around the world, this topic is unlikely to lose its political significance in the foreseeable future.

Government responses to immigration and the refugee crisis are in part driven by public opinion and the fear that voters will be or already have been disenchanted by liberal immigration policies. However, the public’s views tend to be much more nuanced than is often realized.

In round 7 of the ESS, for example, European publics were found to be more sympathetic to highly-skilled migrants than to low-skilled and poorly-educated migrants and saw commitment to the destination country’s way of life, the ability to speak the country’s language and work skills as the key criteria for accepting migrants.

Data from Round 7 of the ESS provides another challenge to prevailing assumptions about the drivers of anti-immigrant sentiment. Negative attitudes towards immigration do not straightforwardly relate to the numbers of migrants arriving in a country.

For example Iceland and Sweden have relatively high net migration rates yet are the two countries most favourable to immigration. The drivers of anti-immigration sentiment are more complex than is usually supposed.

Data from Round 7 of the ESS, conducted in 2014, is enabling us to conduct a thorough examination of the drivers of these cross-national differences and of change over time in anti-immigrant sentiment.

It is, for example, enabling us to compare the importance of competition for jobs and housing with concerns about a country’s ability to assimilate migrants from different religious and cultural traditions.

It should shed new light on the warmth of the welcome for different kinds of migrants, such as those from Muslim countries, or those who are refugees.

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