Post-Brexit British attitudes towards immigration are much more positive
In May this year, ONS released the 2022 migration figures which reported the highest number for overall migration into the UK since records began. But how do British people actually feel about immigration nowadays? The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) presents new research collected in the European Social Survey during 2022, identifying changes in attitudes toward immigration.
While views towards immigration remained relatively stable between 2002 and 2014, they became more positive from 2016 onwards and, in 2022, British people expressed the most positive views towards immigration since the survey began in 2001.
2022 shows a positive rise in attitudes towards immigration
In 2002, 8% of people thought we should allow many immigrants ‘of a different race or ethnic group to the majority’ increasing to 34% in 2022. For immigrants ‘from poorer countries outside of Europe’, the proportion who thought we should allow many increased from 8% in 2002 to 31% in 2022.
When it comes to the impact of immigration on the country, back in 2002, a minority of 17% gave a score of 7 or more out of 10 for positive effects on the economy, and by 2022 this had become the majority at 59%. Similar effects were observed on enriching cultural life, (from 33% in 2002 to 58% in 2022, giving a score of 7 or more) and making the country a better place to live (20% to 56%, giving a score of 7 or more).
Varying levels of support for immigration
Whilst Labour supporters hold much more favourable views about immigration, the move towards becoming more positive is observed for both Labour and Conservative supporters. Between 2002 and 2022, the proportion that thought we should allow ‘some’ or ‘many’ immigrants from poorer countries outside of Europe increased from 71% to 91% for Labour supporters, and from 63% to 83% for Conservative supporters.
In 2022, Conservative supporters were more likely to want to allow ‘some’ immigrants and Labour supporters to allow ‘many’ immigrants.
This research also found in 2022 the majority of Labour supporters believe immigration is good for the economy (78% scoring 7+), culture (82% scoring 6+) and making the country a better place to live (74% scoring 6+). Less than half of Conservative supporters score 7+ on the effects of immigration on the economy (48%), and less than a third did for the effect on culture (30%) and for making the country a better place to live (29%).
Alun Humphrey, Director of Household Surveys at the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and UK National Coordinator of the European Social Survey says: “The robust methodology and 20-year time series of the survey provides confidence in the trends in the data that reflect how our attitudes have changed over time. It seems like the issue of immigration is likely to remain on the front pages for some time and could well become a key battleground at the next general election.”
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Notes to editors:
- The European Social Survey (ESS) is an academically driven cross-national survey that has been conducted across Europe since its establishment in 2001. Every two years, face-to-face interviews are conducted with newly selected, cross-sectional samples. Since the survey began, over 20,000 people in the UK have taken part.
- The National Centre for Social Research (NatCen), Britain’s largest independent social research organisation, aims to make life better through high quality social research (www.natcen.ac.uk).
- The survey asks people to rank out of 10 whether immigration is ‘bad or good for the economy’, whether ‘cultural life is generally undermined or enriched’ and whether it makes the country a ‘worse or better place to live’ (10 being the most positive).
- In the UK, fieldwork for ESS 2022 was carried between August 2021 and September 2022 and 1,149 participants took part. The survey involves strict random probability sampling and is weighted to ensure the data is representative of the population.
- Data tables for the UK response on attitudes towards immigration from 2002 to 2022 are available upon request.