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Global views on immigration: Lessons learned from an international online poll conducted by Ipsos

Keren Gottfried1

Governments may have many good reasons to pursue increases in immigrant populations; however, policymakers must be aware that public opinion does not hold favourable views towards migrants to their country. This phenomenon, consistent around the world, bears examining, given that public opinion plays a unique role in determining public policy in democratic states (and, increasingly, in non-democratic states as well). Any attempts to liberalize borders or expand integration should be done with this understanding in mind. Policymakers can determine which opinions held by the general population are legitimate or grounded in fact, and which are perpetuated by ill-founded beliefs. Promoting a culture of tolerance, and enacting educational campaigns to correct any wayward beliefs, will be up to those who wish to shift a decidedly negative public body.

A poll conducted by global research company Ipsos has found that nearly one half (45%) of global citizens in 24 countries surveyed believe that "immigration has generally had a negative impact on their country", compared to three in 10 (29%) who believe it has been neither positive nor negative and only two in 10 (21%) who believe the impact has been positive. This article sketches the geographic, demographic and economic undertones to this global point of view.

How we collected our data

For the past two years, Ipsos has operated Global @dvisor, a regular monthly online survey in 24 countries around the world with approximately 18,500 respondents every month. The survey is conducted in large part through our partnership with Reuters and the fielding of our Reuters Consumer Sentiment Index, a set of 17 questions assessing global economic confidence and general well-being.

This is a shared syndicate "omnibus" poll – meaning that varieties of different organizations place their own proprietary questions on the polling vehicle and then receive the data after it is collected for their section approximately 30 days after the study is launched. In addition to the Reuters questions, clients add proprietary questions on the poll at marginal cost.

Our poll on attitudes towards immigration ran in 23 countries via the Ipsos Online Panel system. An international sample of 17,601 adults aged 18–64 in the United States and Canada, and aged 16–64 in all other countries, were interviewed between 15 June and 28 June 2011. The countries reporting herein were Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Poland, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Turkey and the United States of America.

Approximately 1,000+ individuals participated in each country except: Argentina, Indonesia, Mexico, Poland, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Sweden and Turkey, where each had a sample of 500+. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflected that of the adult population according to the most recent country census data, and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The online population was typically reflective of the general population in each country except for South Africa and India, where the sample was more affluent due to their rates of online penetration.

A survey with an unweighted probability sample of this size and a 100 per cent response rate would have an estimated margin of error of +/-3.1 percentage points for a sample of 1,000 and an estimated margin of error of +/- 4.5 percentage points for a sample of 500.

Global @dvisor is one of the only worldwide proprietary surveys run on a regular basis. Our samples allow us to look at the data in a myriad of ways: by country, region, gender, age, household income, marital status, education, chief income earner, employment, business owner and senior/executive decision maker in the workplace.

What we asked: the questionnaire

The purpose of our study was to gather a preliminary understanding of general assessments of immigrants within each participating country. While these simple questions only scratch the surface on the topic, the general results provide a jumping point for more in-depth research. We asked the general population in the 23 countries the following questions:

Over the last 5 years, in your opinion has the amount of migrants in [country]….?

- Increased a lot
- Increased a little
- Stayed the same
- Decreased a little
- Decreased a lot

Would you say that immigration has generally had a positive or negative impact on [country]?

- Very positive
- Fairly positive
- Neither positive or negative
- Fairly negative
- Very negative
- Don't know

Please tell whether you agree or disagree with each of the following statements:

- Immigration is good for the economy of [country] -Immigrants make [country] a more interesting place to live
- Immigration has placed too much pressure on public services in [country] (for example, health, transport, educational services)
- Immigrants in [country] have made it more difficult for [host country nationality] people to get jobs
- Priority should be given to immigrants with higher education and qualifications who can fill shortages among certain professions in [country]
- There are too many immigrants in our country

Preliminary findings: too many immigrants

Eight in 10 (80%) citizens in the 23 countries polled believe that over the last five years the amount of migrants in their country has increased; half (51%) say the amount has increased "a lot" and three in 10 (29%) say "a little".

The intensity of this view sets the backdrop for generally critical views of this perceived increase. Nearly one half (45%) of citizens believe "immigration has generally had a negative impact on their country"(16% very negative, 29% fairly negative) while just one in five (21%) think the impact has been positive (5% very, 17% somewhat) and all others (29%) are on the fence.

Half of all respondents believe there are too many immigrants in their country (52%), that they have made it more difficult for their country's nationals to get jobs (48%), and that they place too much pressure on their country's public services (51%).

Three in 10(28%) agree that immigration is good for their economy and half (45%) agree that "priority should be given to immigrants with higher education and qualifications who can fill shortages among certain professions". Only three in 10 (31%) respondents agree that "immigrants make their country a more interesting place to live".

Geographic and demographic factors

Of course, there is much variation across the 23 countries on these assessment points. Regionally, the Middle East and Africa (54%) are most likely to believe that immigration has generally been negative for their country, followed by Europe (53%), North America (46%), Asia-Pacific (35%) and Latin America (31%).

Nationally, our poll found that those with the strongest negative opinion on this measure are from Belgium (72%), South Africa (70%), the Russian Federation (69%), Great Britain (64%), Turkey (57%), the United States (56%), Italy (56%) and Spain (55%).

Three in 10 (29%) respondents are clearly in the middle on the sentiment, believing the impact is neither positive nor negative with those from Brazil (49%), the Republic of Korea (47%), Japan (46%) and Mexico (46%), Turkey (35%), Hungary (34%) and Argentina (32%) being the most neutral on the issue. Those citizens who are most likely to believe immigration has generally had a positive impact on their country still only hold these positive views softly; those in India (43%), Canada (39%), Saudi Arabia (38%), Sweden (37%), Australia (31%), Brazil (30%) and Indonesia (30%) are most likely to say the impact has been positive.

Those most likely to respond that immigration has been generally negative are also among those most likely to say the amount of immigrants in their country has increased in the last five years: Belgium (94%), Italy (93%), South Africa (91%), the Russian Federation (90%), Argentina (89%), Great Britain (85%) and Spain (85%). A similar group is also most likely to agree "there are too many immigrants in their country": the Russian Federation (77%), Belgium (72%), Great Britain (71%), Italy (67%), Spain (67%), South Africa (66%) and Argentina (61%).

Demographically, household income appears to be an indicator as those with a high level of income (52%) are more likely than those with middle (43%) and lower (41%) incomes to respond that immigration has been negative. Educational affluence also seems impactful since those with a lower level of education are significantly more likely to say that immigration has generally had a negative impact on their country (48%) than those with a higher education (39%) level.

Economic vulnerability

The questions we fielded on the topic of immigration only surveyed what people felt; we didn't ask why. However, in cross-tabulating the data across our economic confidence and general satisfaction battery, we can begin to see a picture that is rooted in specific attitudes.

We investigated how sentiments across 17 different economic and general satisfaction assessment indicators related to feelings towards immigration. Those indicators cover the following topics: economic confidence, personal financial situation, general satisfaction with life and country, job security, and likelihood to invest. We compared samples that represent positive or negative sentiments on these 17 measures to investigate a possible relationship between economic confidence and anti-immigrant sentiment.

We found that economic attitudes do appear to influence one's likelihood to say that immigration has had a negative impact on one's country. In particular, lack of economic confidence in both local and national economies, in one's personal financial situation, and assessing the country as going in the wrong direction make one more likely to see immigration as negative.

Table 1 shows that those who say they expect the economy in their local area to be weaker six months from now (55%) are 21 points more likely than those who expect their local economy to be stronger (34%) and 10 points more likely than the global aggregate average (45%) to say that immigration has generally had a negative impact. Similarly, those who say their personal financial situation will be weaker six months from now (55%), those who rate the economy in their local area as weak (52%), those who say their country is off on the wrong track (51%) and those who rate the current economic situation in their country to be bad (51%) are significantly more likely than the average citizen to say immigration has had a negative impact.

Table 1:

Table 1

In fact, on each of the 17 measures, the samples that provided negative/dissatisfied responses were more likely to say immigrants have generally had a negative impact on the country than the samples that provided positive/satisfied responses.

On the other hand, as shown in Table 2, those least likely to say immigrants have had a generally negative impact on the country are those who expect the economy in their local area to be stronger in six months (34%), those who assess their country as generally heading in the right direction (34%) and those satisfied with the way things are going in their country (34%).

Table 2:

Table 2

The top attitudinal indicators of negative sentiments towards immigrants vary across some regions. Table 3 shows that Europe and Latin America have the same top three indicators as the global aggregate, but in North America (58%) and in Middle East and Africa (71%) those who rate the current national economic situation in their country to be bad are the third most likely in their region to say immigrants have been a negative force.

Table 3:

Table 3

Asia-Pacific varies most widely; it is the only region where the top indicator of negative sentiments towards the impact of immigrants on their country is saying that, taking all things together, they are not happy (43%). Next in line is that of people rating their current financial situation as weak (42%).

1 Keren Gottfried is Research Manager with the Public Opinion Polling division of Ipsos. She is responsible for the research and media relations of Global @dvisor, its monthly online research service in 24 countries. She can be reached at keren.gottfried@ipsos.com. For information about Ipsos and access to Media and Polling Releases, as well as our original release on the Immigration data, go to: http://www.ipsos.com