Friday, December 4, 2009

Perceptions of Immigrants

The German Marshall Fund released yesterday the results of its Transatlantic Trends survey on popular perceptions of immigrants in the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. Some interesting key findings:
  • While the economic crisis may have slightly hardened attitudes towards immigrants, the negative shifts in views on immigration since 2008 were not large. Moreover, most survey respondents did not think that immigrants lower wages or take away jobs from citizens. Indeed, political beliefs were more predictive of attitudes towards immigrants than were household financial situations.
  • Perceptions about immigrants were often strikingly inaccurate. For example, most respondents significantly overestimated the number of immigrants in their country. Americans estimated that immigrants comprised 35% of the population; in reality, their share of the population is closer to 14%. Moreover, Americans, Italians, and Spaniards mistakenly believed that there were more illegal than legal immigrants present in their countries.
  • The label of "illegality" was perhaps disproportionately important for many of those surveyed. Most respondents perceived illegal immigrants significantly more negatively than legal immigrants, attributing to the former increased crime rates and burdens on hospitals and schools. In the United States, support for legalization of the undocumented has dropped (to 44%) since 2008.
  • Some attitudes towards immigrants were significantly more generous than one might expect. The majority of respondents supported granting legal immigrants the same social benefits and the same rights to political participation as citizens. In the United States, 70% of respondents supported permanent (as opposed to temporary) labor migration.

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