What are ‘anti-immigration attitudes’?

Fishbein and Ajzen 1 describe an attitude as ‘a learned predisposition to respond in a consistently favorable or unfavorable manner with respect to a given object'. In other words, attitudes can be seen as more or less consistent tendencies to evaluate particular objects positively or negatively. In this module, we study how Europeans evaluate the object ‘immigration’. Thus, attitudes toward immigration essentially refer to the evaluations that people make in relation to immigration.

According to social-psychological theory, evaluations of objects are based on so-called ‘beliefs’ about these objects. Beliefs are pieces of information that individuals have about the object in question; beliefs are convictions that an object possesses certain characteristics. Individuals may hold a wide range of beliefs on immigration. One can be convinced that immigration causes unemployment for the local population, or, alternatively, that immigration enriches European cultural life. These beliefs can stem from personal experience. But they can also be based on second-hand information - received from acquaintances or from more distant sources, such as mass communication media. People arrive at an overall evaluation of the phenomenon of immigration by balancing all the beliefs they have with respect to immigration, thereby taking their relative importance into consideration. Obviously, beliefs do not necessarily have to be ‘true’ to have an impact on attitude formation.

Previous research has revealed that, in reality, people’s attitudes are often not very consistent, and that, instead, they are strongly dependent on the concrete context in which they are expressed [Tou88] [Kro87]. Attitudes are thus more than a consistent, purely rational calculation based on concrete, well-founded information. Intuitive feelings, superficial impressions, stereotypes and ideological positions play an important role in the formation of attitudes. This is especially the case when one has little personal experience of the object of the attitude (and this is certainly the case with immigration). Attitudes towards a certain object are therefore never completely isolated, but are often strongly connected to attitudes towards objects that are perceived as related or similar. Attitudes to immigration are closely related to attitudes to ethnic minorities or to outgroups in general. Recent empirical evidence has shown that attitudes to diverse groups such as Jews, Muslims, homosexuals, the disabled and homeless persons are indeed very similar in their origins and consequences [Zic08].

This idea is in line with the classical theory of ethnocentrism. As early as 1906, Sumner introduced the notion of ‘ethnocentrism’ to denote the view that one's own social group is the centre of everything. Ethnocentric persons judge outgroups by means of the cultural norms and values of their own group [Sum60]. Ethnocentrism is seen as a complex of two different attitudes: a loyal, uncritical, positive attitude towards one’s own social group (in-group dimension) combined with a hostile, negative attitude towards other groups (the outgroup dimension). Anti-immigration attitudes can thus be seen as a concrete translation of the outgroup dimension of ethnocentrism. Other aspects of ethnocentrism include ethnic prejudice, perceptions of ethnic threat, social distance, and avoidance of outgroup contact [Lev72].

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