Imagined Immigration: The Different Meanings of "Immigrants" in Public Opinion and Policy Debates in Britain

2011 - 2012
Overview Methods Findings Outputs News & Media
Back to Projects


This project aimed to build a more detailed understanding of public attitudes in Britain towards immigration. For half a century opinion polls have consistently shown that the British public is in favour of a reduction in immigration. But answers to basic questions about people’s preferences for reducing, increasing or maintaining prevailing levels of immigration provide only a very partial understanding of the British population’s views on this issue.

In September 2011, the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford commissioned polling firm Ipsos MORI to ask a series of questions about immigration and immigrants to a representative sample of adults living in Britain. Although the poll supported previous findings that a large majority of people in Britain favour cuts in immigration, it also found that the public’s views on immigration are complex and nuanced in a way that previous polls have failed to capture, and that these views vary substantially depending on which immigrant groups the public is considering. UK policy-makers clearly pay attention to public attitudes to immigration. Government impact assessments for changes to labour and student immigration policy, for example, list public concern about immigration and confidence in the immigration system among the benefits of new policies. In light of this, the survey results have important implications for public policy debates about immigration in the UK.

Principal Investigator

Scott Blinder