HBD: Human Biodiversity

Attitudes to Immigration, Recent Data

The BBC reported recently that a recent survey of eight EU and North American countries—United States, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Netherlands, and Spain—has uncovered that out of those Britons are, on average, the most anxious about immigration. The report painted British anti-immigrant sentiment with a broad brush, and, via the president of the German Marshall Fund, which commissioned the survey, made sure to include the statement: 

But the survey also shows that the more one is exposed to immigrants, the more one feels positively toward them.

That makes it all right, then. Phew!

Encouraged by the findings as I was irritated by the BBC’s approach to reporting, I decided to dive into the top line results to get a more accurate picture. I summarise these results below without comment.

The Data

Apparently, 60% of Britons follow news about immigration closely (as opposed to 37% of Americans). Only 37% think it is either the most important or next most important issue facing the country (Americans: 55%; Spain: 62%), but 68% discuss it, following 76% Spaniards and 85% of Italians, 77% and 80% of whom respectively follow news about immigration and immigrant integration closely. Three quarters of Britons think there are a lot of immigrants, and nearly half think there are too many (less than a quarter of Americans do). Most respondents’ greatest worry is immigrants’ ability (or inability) to respect national political institutions and laws, followed by immigrants’ ability to speak the local language, although a surprisingly low percentage of Italians or Spaniards—6% of them—seem to care.

The interesting thing, in view of these findings, is that 68% of Britons believe the myth, propagated by the media (and unsubstantiated by evidence, as far as I know), that legal immigrants help fill the jobs Britons will not do; this is the majority view everywhere else too, and the percentage remains over 50% when myth is applied to illegal immigrants. Yet, nearly 60% of Britons think there are too many foreign-born people in the country already; 60% think they cost more than they contribute in taxes; 65% see immigrants as more of a problem; and between 50-75% think they impose a burden on social services, depending on whether immigrants are legal or illegal. Two thirds of Britons would like illegal immigrants thrown out.

Respondents in the surveyed countries are closely divided—percentages in the 40s and 50s—on whether immigrants should be allowed to stay.

Consistently with our critiques of global capitalism, the overwhelming majority of the respondents in all the countries surveyed (except the Netherlands) believe that immigrants are exploited in the workplace. Most Americans, Britons, and Spaniards think that immigrants bring down wages of native citizens, but on the whole respondents are divided.

Britons are most sceptical of the view that immigrants “enrich” (multiculturalist’s use of that term has always irritated me) the country with new customs and ideas; the majority of respondents elsewhere (roughly 5-6 in 10) buy the enrichment line, led by Americans, Canadians, and Germans. Where Americans and Britons agree is that immigrants take jobs from native workers; and where all agree is that available jobs are scarce. And all seem to agree, despite their millions of unemployed, despite jobs being scarce, that there is a shortage of workers that immigrants help to fill. Only 5 in 10 of North American respondents and only 4 in 10 of EU respondents were in full-time employment.

The issue of jobs is clearly imperfectly understood by the respondents: while most think jobs are taken away by immigrants, they are more or less evenly divided on the issue of whether immigrants create new opportunities by setting up new businesses, with approximately 5% not knowing the answer.

What is clear is that naturalisation criteria is badly out of kilter with what native citizens regard as important: at the moment, barring convictions and other such disqualifiers, length of residence is used in many European countries as a criterion for naturalisation (in Britain it used to be that 5 years’ residence was enough); whereas most citizens are concerned about immigrants’ assimilability (i.e., their ability to respect national political institutions and laws and speak the language).

Americans are more or less sceptical of Third World development as a deterrent for immigration, while about half of Britons support the idea. Italians seem keen, with 80% favouring it as a solution. What is overwhelmingly clear, however, is that 85-90% respondents want stronger border controls, and 75-90% would like to see employers of illegal immigrants more harshly penalised.

Only between 1-5% of respondents think governments in their respective countries are doing a very good job managing immigration; except in Canada, the majority think governments were doing a poor or very poor job. Americans are by far the angriest, with nearly three quarters taking this view, followed closely by the United Kingdom and Italy. Similarly, most respondents think their governments are doing a poor or very poor job in integrating existing immigrants.

The interesting thing about respondents’ answers to the question of who should be responsible for deciding immigration levels, most thought this was the national government’s prerogative, not the local government in the US or the EU in Europe. The survey does not appear to have offered an option for citizens being allowed to decide.

Respondents are more or less divided on the issue of granting voter rights to immigrants, with percentages in the 40s and 50s.

Despite an overwhelming opposition to more immigration and an clear majority who thinks there are too many immigrants, there is considerable support for the idea of bringing yet more immigrants to potential solve worker shortages arising from an aging population; and respondents are mostly unwilling to work longer in order to reduce the perceived need for immigrants. In fact, they are willing to allow even more immigrants in if they are doctors, nurses, and, to a lesser extent, care workers.

Overwhelmingly, most of the respondents—between 78-92%—had few or no friends born in another country. Of EU respondents, 89% where White, with the rest being in the low single digits. Of North American respondents, 71% where White, 12% Black, and 12% Hispanic. In all cases, between 90-97% of respondents were born in the country where they were surveyed. In Britain, however, only 60% were citizens.

In the EU countries, and using conventional / modern definitions of the term, respondents tilt slightly Left (32% Left, 29% centre, 28% Right = 61% centre-to-Left vs. 57% centre to Right); in North America, they tilt Right (22% liberal, 30% middle of the road; 39% conservative = 52% middle to liberal vs. 69% middle to conservative).