Imagined immigration: the different meanings of "immigrants" in public opinion and policy debates in Britain

Document type
Working Paper
Author(s)
Blinder, Scott
Publisher
COMPAS
Date of publication
1 June 2012
Series
Working paper; 96
Subject(s)
Minority Groups, Community Development and Regeneration
Collection
Social welfare
Material type
Reports

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Public opinion research on immigration attitudes has largely overlooked the question of how survey respondents understand the term immigrants. This paper investigates latent perceptions of immigrants, termed imagined immigration, among members of the British public. Using novel survey data, the author examines who members of the British public have in mind when they think of immigrants. It is found that public perceptions of immigration diverge significantly from the set of people identified as immigrants in government statistics and targeted by restrictionist policies. In particular, public perceptions focus on asylum seekers and permanent arrivals, while mostly ignoring international students, the largest group of immigrants to Britain and a target of new restrictive immigration policies. The report also shows that many common perceptions of imagined immigration are strongly associated with individual preferences for reduced immigration, suggesting that imagined immigration should be considered in future research as a possible determinant of anti-immigration policy preferences.

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