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Public attitudes towards immigration and immigrants: what people think, why, and how to influence them

Working paper

Written by Amy Leach, Helen Dempster, Karen Hargrave

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This paper builds on a 2017 ODI working paper entitled Understanding public attitudes towards refugees and migrants. Since then, the field of public attitudes towards immigration has grown immensely, with a proliferation of regional, national and global surveys seeking to ascertain how attitudes have changed over time. Researchers have also attempted to map individual drivers of public attitudes through attitudinal segmentation, while studies have detailed the influence of policymakers, public policy, the media, civil society and the private sector on public attitudes towards refugees and other migrants. This paper revisits the conclusions of the original paper and provides new evidence to support anyone seeking to influence public attitudes towards immigration. 

Key messages

  • People hold diverse and seemingly contradictory attitudes towards immigration – they can support reductions while recognising the positive economic and cultural impact of immigrants in their country.
  • Segmentation across high-income countries shows roughly half of people form a ‘conflicted’ middle: neither for nor against migration.
  • Attitudes towards immigrants and immigration are rooted in individuals’ values and worldview. While they can be shifted by external factors, they are relatively fixed.
  • Attempts to shift attitudes must therefore understand and engage with these values, particularly those of the ‘conflicted’ middle.

About the series

Through a series of activities, dialogues and innovative communication and outreach initiatives, Public and political narratives on refugees and other migrants: implications for action maps recent research and evidence on public attitudes toward refugees and other migrants.