Did public opinion of immigration take a negative turn during the recession?
Research has found that increasingly popularity of right-wing political parties has not been because of an increase in anti-immigrant sentiment.
Many people’s discontent is instead with trust in political institutions and issues surrounding the EU. The research also found that on average across Europe, the shifts in opinion during the last recession were fairly modest. The findings were published in the journal Economic Policy.
Contrary to widespread view that the recession led to a substantial backlash against immigration, Professor Timothy Hatton, at the University of Exeter, found that the two most influential variables shifting public opinion on immigration are actually the share of immigrants in the population and the share of social benefits. There was also no evidence that this backlash has in turn been a major cause of the resurgence of support for right wing populist parties. Professor Hatton commented:
“The Euro crisis and the prolonged recession has incubated euro-scepticism upon which far right parties have capitalised. The growing prominence in media of these parties has also given added impetus in the political debate to other issues on the far-right agenda — most notably immigration. However, the surge in right wing populism does not fit well with the trends, or lack thereof, in anti-immigrant opinion.”
The dataset used in the research by Professor Hatton, from the European Social Survey, provided a unique opportunity to analyse immigration opinion over a decade that spans the economic turbulence brought about by the global financial crisis. Six questions were asked in the survey, which related to preferences over the number of immigrants that should be admitted and the perceived impact of immigration to a particular country. The results showed that Scandinavians tended to be more positive than average about immigration, whereas Czech, Hungarian, Greek, and Portuguese respondents were more negative.
However, answers changed only modestly overall in the wake of the global financial crisis. The results also showed few significant differences across age, sex, labour force participation, and ethnic minority status.
The review found that during the recession, concerns about the recession itself became a more pressing issue than immigration and the salience of immigration declined. It also found that, for the most part, shifts to the right have not been due to anti-immigrant sentiment. Professor Hatton concluded that: “politicians need to focus on rebuilding trust in political institutions rather than directing their fire at immigrants.”