In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Public Opinion on Immigration

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Trends in Immigration Public Opinion
  • The Influence of Economic Factors
  • Framing and the News
  • Individual Attitudes
  • Group Threat
  • Undocumented, Unauthorized, or Irregular Immigration
  • Effect of Immigration Opinion on Crime Opinion and Policy
  • Impact on EU Integration
  • Welfare and Other Redistributive Programs

Political Science Public Opinion on Immigration
Kristina Victor
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 September 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 September 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0280


The movement of people within states and across state borders has occurred for hundreds of years. Research examining how, when, and why domestic populations perceive of positive or negative impacts from the rise or fall of immigration is examined in the following sections. Within the literature on public opinion and immigration, various themes, immigrant groups, and domestic populations are examined; public opinion in receiving countries tends to be limited to North America, western Europe, and Australia. The first theme examines the impact of immigrant types—certain immigrants are viewed more favorably than others. The frames used by elites and the news media help to develop the notion of deservedness or usefulness of immigrant types. How often the immigration issue is in the news or in the political sphere, along with the tone of the coverage, heightens the salience and can influence public opinion on immigration. The second theme examines the role of economics at the personal, regional, or national levels. This research examines more than just personal or national economic context; it also examines additional underlying attitudes and beliefs about racial and ethnic groups, such as group threat and proximity to immigrant groups, that may be active or latent and influence public opinion on immigration. The third theme examines when and how public opinion on immigration influences other policy areas, such as individual preferences for further integration in the European Union (EU), or support for welfare and other redistributive programs sponsored by the state. The fourth theme is how and when public opinion on immigration changes—what explains periods of slow and steady support or opposition, versus periods of rapid or volatile changes to public opinion on immigration. There are a few recurring points of interest across the several broad themes outlined above: (1) perceptions of positive or negative impact of immigrants in the receiving country, (2) perceptions of the number of immigrants compared to domestic populations in receiving country, and (3) the current salience and context of the immigration issue in the receiving country.

General Overview

There are several books and edited volumes that present research on public opinion and immigration across a wide range of subjects. Freeman, et al. 2013 is a comprehensive edited volume examining the socioeconomic factors that influence individual attitudes on immigration, as well as research on the causality of public opinion on immigration: whether attitudes on immigration impact policy, or whether politics and policy drive attitudes and preferences on immigration. This volume also discusses the framing of political issues and the salient immigrant groups in the United States and Canada. Schildkraut 2011 examines public opinion on immigration, as well as the implications of identifying solely as American on civic engagement, trust in political institutions, and threat and resentment among the majority and minority populations. Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung 2010, an edited volume on migration, public opinion, and politics, covers several of the subsets in the public opinion and immigration literature. It has ample discussion of the impact of public opinion across receiving states in Europe and North America. Additionally, the volume covers the comparative impact of media frames and immigration policies. Masuoka 2013 provides a detailed, historical examination of the relationship between citizenship, race, and immigration in the United States. Included is a comparative analysis of public opinions of different racial and ethnic groups in the United States.

  • Freeman, Gary P., Randall Hansen, and David L. Leal. Immigration and Public Opinion in Liberal Democracies. New York: Routledge, 2013.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203095133

    Providing an overview of the major subthemes in the literature, the book is organized around the following issues: (1) what drives immigration preferences, (2) the impact of the economy, (3) difficulties with determining causality between immigration attitudes and immigration policy, (4) how frames influence public opinion, and (5) what does immigration look like in the United States and Canada.

  • Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung, ed. Migration, Public Opinion and Politics. Gütersloh, Germany: Verlag Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2010.

    Overviews immigration in several European countries. Topics covered include economy, education, nativism, right-wing parties, and immigration policies in receiving countries.

  • Masuoka, Natalie. The Politics of Belonging: Race, Public Opinion, and Immigration. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226057330.001.0001

    Explores connections between citizenship, race, and immigration in the United States. Uses a historical approach and examines attitudes and preferences of white, black, Latino, and Asian populations.

  • Schildkraut, Deborah. Americanism in the Twenty-First Century: Public Opinion in the Age of Immigration. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    Evaluates a broad question: What are the impacts of (American) national identity on immigration preferences?

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