The evolution of anti-immigration attitudes

By Professor Bart Meuleman1

The European Social Survey (ESS) has earned a reputation as a useful data source for comparisons of beliefs, values and attitudes across European countries. Now that various rounds of the ESS have become available, the survey also offers interesting opportunities to study how attitude and value patterns change over time. This EduNet module provides an example of how the ESS can be used as an instrument for measuring attitude change in Europe. Specifically, we will take a closer look at how European attitudes towards immigration have evolved in recent years. We will also try to offer possible explanations for the observed attitude trends. For this purpose, data from ESS rounds 1 to 3 have been combined.

The module contains four chapters, which are briefly described below. It is recommended that you start with the first chapter, and then proceed chronologically. The second chapter, dealing with the comparability of measurement instruments, is statistically as well as conceptually the most challenging one. Those who are not interested in the topic, or consider it too difficult, could skip Chapter 2 and pick up the thread again in the third chapter.

Chapter 1: Anti-immigration attitudes: concepts and measurements

This first chapter provides a definition of the concept ‘anti-immigration attitudes’ and briefly reviews the literature on the possible roots of such attitudes. We discuss how anti-immigration attitudes are operationalised in the ESS and perform some exploratory data analyses.

Chapter 2: The comparability of attitude measurements

The goal of this topic is to compare anti-immigration attitudes over time points and across countries. Before such comparisons can be made in a valid way, the comparability of the measurement instrument has to be tested. This second chapter provides a step-by-step explanation of how such tests can be performed in practice, using AMOS. The comparability of the ESS anti-immigration scale is discussed.

Chapter 3: Trends in anti-immigration attitudes

The third chapter starts by reviewing the scant previous research on changes in negative attitudes toward immigrants and ethnic minorities. Next, we use ESS data to estimate the recent evolution of European anti-immigration attitudes. Particular attention is devoted to tests of statistical significance and a graphical representation of the attitude trends.

Chapter 4: Possible explanations for the attitude trends

The fourth and final chapter of this module presents a theoretical explanation model for changes in anti-immigration attitudes. We test empirically whether this model helps us to understand the attitude trends that were observed in Chapter 3. Specifically, we investigate whether changes in anti-immigration attitudes are related to contextual variables, such as economic growth and immigration flows.

After completing this module, you will have practised the following skills: