Expert Commentary

How ideological attitudes predict host society members’ attitudes toward immigrants

2010 study in Journal of Social Issues on global reception of new immigrants and cultural factors that produce negative attitudes toward them.

An estimated 200 million migrants cross national borders each year around the globe, prompting concerns in many countries about the economic and social effects of these waves of newcomers. While backlashes against immigrants may be superficially similar across many cultures, underlying motivations can differ.

A 2010 metastudy in the Journal of Social Issues, “How Ideological Attitudes Predict Host Society Members’ Attitudes toward Immigrants: Exploring Cross-National Differences,” explored the cultural factors shaping perceptions of immigration in 17 countries. The researchers looked at the effect of two different worldviews on immigration outcomes: right-wing authoritarianism, where citizens see social nonconformity as threatening to cohesion and security; and social dominance orientation, in which competition over jobs and resources produce fear and other negative feelings.

The study’s findings include:

  • In countries where immigrants are seen as increasing crime rates, right-wing authoritarian attitudes were more likely to play a stronger underlying role in anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • In countries where there is relative higher unemployment of immigrants, social dominance orientation plays a stronger underlying role in anti-immigrant sentiment.
  • Among the countries studied, right-wing authoritarianism had the strongest correlation with negative attitudes about immigrants in Germany, Italy, Israel and Belgium.
  • In several countries, fears over cohesion and security were significantly more important than issues of status and competition, and vice versa. Right-wing authoritarianism was more important in feeding anti-immigrant attitudes in Germany and Italy, while social dominance orientation was more significant in Chile and Canada.
  • In the United States, concerns over competition were more likely to animate anti-immigrant attitudes than concerns over cohesion and security.

Better understanding the role of these underlying worldviews may inform policy measures to help immigrants integrate into society, the study’s authors write. Where appropriate, addressing myths about rising crime rates or empowering immigrants’ economic situation may reduce cultural conflicts.

A related study from MIT and Harvard and published in the American Political Science Review, “Attitudes toward Highly Skilled and Low-skilled Immigration: Evidence from a Survey Experiment,” examined how concerns about labor competition and fiscal burdens on public services could affect attitudes toward immigrants.

Tags: crime, employment, Hispanic, Latino, race

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