Antecedents of anti-immigration attitudes

There is now a vast amount of research into the antecedents of negative attitudes to ethnic minorities, immigrants and immigration (see, among others, [Bil95] [Cit97] [Coe03] [Fet00] [Hai07]). Ample empirical evidence has been presented that anti-immigration attitudes are stronger among people with little education, low-skilled workers and those at the lower end of the income distribution. According to self-interest theory, these persons hold similar positions to immigrants, and they are therefore more vulnerable to ethnic competition. As a result, they would be more prone to anti-immigration sentiment. Involvement in religious communities, membership of voluntary organisations, high levels of social trust and the absence of political powerlessness, on the other hand, seem to temper negative attitudes toward immigration. The logic behind these relationships can be traced back to social (contra-) identification theory [Taj82]. According to this theory, people who are socially isolated feel a stronger need to acquire a positive social identity by rejecting outgroups such as immigrants.

More recently, scholars started devoting considerable attention to how anti-immigration attitudes in Europe are influenced by the broader context in which individuals live. Various studies report that anti-immigration attitudes are more widespread in regions or countries with unfavourable economic conditions and sizeable immigrant populations [Qui95] [Sch02] [Sch08] [Sem08]. However, others were not able to replicate these effects [Sid07] [Str08], indicating that effects of economic context and ethnic diversity are still not an open-and-shut case.

Data: anti-immigration attitudes in the European Social Survey

In order to study the evolution of European anti-immigration attitudes, we make use of the first three rounds of the ESS (2002-3, 2004-5 and 2006-7). Seventeen European countries participated in all three ESS rounds. These countries are Austria (AT), Belgium (BE), Switzerland (CH), Germany (DE), Denmark (DK), Spain (ES), Finland (FI), France (FR), Great Britain (GB), Hungary (HU), Ireland (IE), the Netherlands (NL), Norway (NO), Poland (PL), Portugal (PT), Sweden (SE) and Slovenia (SI).

The core module of the ESS (this is the part of the questionnaire that is retaken in every round) contains three items that measure opposition to immigration. Each of the three items asks whether respondents prefer their country to grant access to many or few immigrants from a certain group. The first two items measure the extent to which the respondent believes his or her country should allow people of the same or of a different ethnic group to come and live there. The third question specifically refers to potential immigrants from the poorer countries outside Europe. Respondents indicated their responses on four-point scales, ranging from 1 (allow many) to 4 (allow none). Higher scores thus indicate stronger opposition to immigration to the country. These items can be seen as general indicators of a negative attitude towards immigration 1.

Table 1.1. The immigration items in the ESS. (Introduction to the questions: 'Now some questions about people from other countries coming to live in (country).')
Variable name Literal question
imsmetn To what extent do you think [country] should allow people of the same race or ethnic group as most [country] people to come and live here?
imdfetn How about people of a different race or ethnic group from most [country] people?
impcntr How about people from the poorer countries outside Europe?

Value categories all items: 1 = Allow many to come and live here, 2 = Allow some, 3 = Allow a few, 4 = Allow none

In the remainder of this chapter, we use SPSS to construct and explore the dataset that will be used throughout this module.

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