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EU attitudes to immigration "stay same"

29 May 2014 Essex, University of

Those who feel the success of UKIP and other right-wing parties in the recent Euro elections is a clear sign of souring public attitudes to immigration may have to think again. 

For new research has shown that public opinion on immigration has changed little across Europe in the past decade – despite the economic shocks of global recession. 

A study by economist Professor Tim Hatton, from the University of Essex, looked into links between the recession and public attitudes towards immigration in 20 EU countries. What he found dispelled the widely-held belief that public opinion on immigration becomes more negative in times of severe recession, when jobs are scarce.

 Using data from the European Social Survey (ESS) from 2002-2012, Professor Hatton looked at attitudes towards immigrants and immigration before and after the global financial crisis. 

“The most striking finding that emerges from my research,” explained Professor Hatton, “is how little opinion on immigration has changed since before the recession. In fact, there seems to be a very mild positive trend in opinion towards immigrants, on average across Europe, with a slight setback in the few years following recession.” 

Professor Hatton found that the key influences on average opinion are the share of immigrants in the population and the share of social spending in a country’s gross domestic product (GDP). Once these factors are taken into account, the unemployment rate has very little effect on attitudes to immigration.

However, the countries hardest hit by the recession, such as Ireland, Greece, Portugal and Spain, were the ones which showed the biggest changes in public opinion to immigration, albeit a modest change. 

With the resurgence of right-wing populism more prominent in northern Europe than the recession-hit south, this implies that the recent rightward shift in political attitudes in Europe may owe more to the politics of Euro-scepticism than to a groundswell of anti-immigration opinion among the general public. 

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