Misconceptions about immigration

Home Office, immigration, illegal 25 April 2015

With the UK General Election coming up in under two weeks, many parties are making their immigration policies clearer in response to public demand - immigration is among the top three issues cited in deciding which party to vote for (alongside the economy and healthcare).

Whilst the topic of immigration is hotly debated in the UK, research from Ipsos MORI has found that the average Briton is ‘massively wrong’ about many key immigration facts.

For instance, the market research firm’s most recent survey found that the public’s average guess of the proportion the foreign-born population make up of the UK is 31%, whilst official estimates put this at 13%. Looking at specific groups, the average estimate of the proportion of the Muslim population in the UK was 21% - when the actual proportion is 5%

There is also a tendency to focus on refugees and asylum-seekers, even though these are the least common immigrant type. Immigrant students were mentioned least often in the Ipsos MORI survey, yet they represented the largest proportion of migrants to the UK in 2011. This suggests that there is a tendency to focus on immigration types that people worry most about, a concept known as emotional innumeracy.

Interestingly, nearly two-thirds of Brits in 1995 wanted a reduction in net migration when it was running at around 60,000 (compared to 260,000 in the year to June 2014). Going back to 1978, up to 70% of the public agreed we were in danger of ‘being swamped’ by other cultures, even though net migration was around 0. This indicates that public views of there being ‘too many immigrants’ remain high even when immigration is much reduced.

Politicians are understandably keen to focus on voter perceptions, but many are concerned that they (let alone the public) are not considering the actual data. Shockingly, Ipsos MORI found that even when people are informed of the real scale and nature of immigration, they have a tendency to disbelieve the figures.

However, efforts still need to be made to provide the public with reliable and accurate immigration statistics so that they can take an informed view of different parties’ policies.

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