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Major Ipsos MORI study examines public attitudes to immigration

Date of Publication: 
20 October 2017

Increase in positive views on impact of immigration, but percentage wanting numbers reduced remains constant

Major Ipsos MORI study examines public attitudes to immigration

20 October 2017

The market research organisation Ipsos MORI this week released the results of a major study on attitudes to immigration among the British public.

A 46-page report on the study can be read here.

The study was undertaken over two years for the organisation Unbound Philanthropy and it reveals eight key findings, namely:

1. People have become more positive about immigration in the last few years…
2. But the majority of people still want immigration reduced.
3. Those who are most open to immigration are most stable in their views.
4. There are few demographic or attitudinal differences between those who have become more positive or negative about immigration.
5. Sovereignty and anti-immigrant feeling drove the EU referendum vote, but this is closely tied to a broader sense of distrust of the system and nostalgia…
6. But there is not one type of Leave or Remain voter, demographically or attitudinally.
7. Brexit has revealed new political fault lines – but other traditional party political divides remain.
8. The "system is broken" for a large majority of people, but it is when this sentiment is combined with a sense of personal threat that it affects behaviour.

The Ipsos MORI report expands on each of the findings in detail.

Overall, the report finds that positive views on the impact of immigration increased over the two-year period of the study, especially after the EU referendum.

In February 2015, approximately 44% of people responded with a negative rating to the question "On a scale of 0 to 10, has migration had a positive or negative impact on Britain?" while approximately 33% of people responded with a positive rating. By October 2016, that position had reversed and more people responded with a positive, rather than negative, rating.

The report notes: "When looking at the individual level of change for all participants that took part in the full length of the study, we find that although most people held the same view on immigration's impact on Britain in February 2015 as they did in October 2016, most people who did change opinion became more positive. Roughly two in five (39%) of those who held a negative view of immigration in October 2015, moved to either feeling neutral or positive. Of those who held positive views about immigration in October 2015, 22% switched to saying immigration's impact was either neutral or negative in October 2016."

Ipsos MORI also found that immigration has become much less likely to be mentioned by people as a top concern over the last few years, while the effects of Brexit and Britain's future relationship with the EU has grown strongly as a top concern.

The percentage of people who want immigration numbers into the UK reduced, however, remained constant throughout the study.

"In October 2016 (our final wave) we found six in 10 people (60%) overall want to see immigration levels reduced – almost identical to our first wave in February 2015. Indeed, this is a common feature of immigration attitudes in the UK over many decades: despite significant ups and downs in actual migration figures and how top of mind a concern it is, our review of historical attitudes to immigration shows that there are always 60%+ who want immigration reduced," Ipsos MORI said.

In analysing which types of people changed their views on immigration the most, Ipsos MORI identified and classified four different population segments to simplify the public's attitudes to immigration. They are:

• The 'anti-immigration' group, 28% of the public: "Concerned about immigrants taking away welfare services and jobs. Nostalgic for the past. Least likely to mix with people from different backgrounds; don't value diversity. Low levels of trust in others and experts. Strong authoritarian views. Older, lower levels of education. social renters. Highest support for UKIP. Voted heavily to Leave."

• The 'comfortably off and culturally concerned' group, 23% of the public: "Optimistic about their future, income inequality acceptable. Highest levels of trust in others, open to diversity, second least nostalgic group. Don't feel personally threated by immigration. Oldest group, retired, most likely to own house outright. Highest support for Tories. Split on EU ref vote."

• The 'under pressure' group, 25% of the public: "Second highest group to think other people get priority over them for public services and immigrants get priority over jobs. Second least emphatic group about diversity. Youngest age group, highest no. of part time workers. Biggest concern issue facing Britain is the economy. Politically disparate and highest group of undecided voters. Marginally more Remain than Leave."

• The 'open to immigration' group, 24% of the public: "Majority think immigration levels should stay same. Trust others and experts. Value diversity and human rights, want a fairer more equal society but. Believe they will be worse off than parents' generation. Well educated, highest group of private renters. Highest group of Labour supporters. Mostly voted Remain."

Ipsos MORI found that those who are open to immigration had the most stable views across the study period, while the 'anti-immigration' group displayed the most volatility in their attitudes.

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director at the Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute, explained that the study found it is often cultural concerns – such as not valuing diversity, opposition to political correctness, nostalgia – that are most associated with anti-immigrant views, more so than economic concerns.