Immigrant populations in many developed democracies have grown rapidly, and so too has an extensive literature on natives' attitudes toward immigration. This research has developed from two theoretical foundations, one grounded in political economy, the other in political psychology. These two literatures have developed largely in isolation from one another, yet the conclusions that emerge from each are strikingly similar. Consistently, immigration attitudes show little evidence of being strongly correlated with personal economic circumstances. Instead, research finds that immigration attitudes are shaped by sociotropic concerns about its cultural impacts—and to a lesser extent its economic impacts—on the nation as a whole. This pattern of results has held up as scholars have increasingly turned to experimental tests, and it holds for the United States, Canada, and Western Europe. Still, more work is needed to strengthen the causal identification of sociotropic concerns and to isolate precisely how, when, and why they matter for attitude formation.


Article metrics loading...

Loading full text...

Full text loading...


Literature Cited

  1. Abrajano M, Singh S. 2009. Examining the link between issue attitudes and news source: the case of Latinos and immigration reform. Polit. Behav. 31:1–30 [Google Scholar]
  2. Albertson B, Gadarian SK. 2012. Who's afraid of immigration? The effects of pro- and anti-immigrant threatening ads among Latinos, African Americans and whites. Immigration and Public Opinion in Liberal Democracies G Freeman, R Hansen, DL Leal 286–306 New York: Routledge [Google Scholar]
  3. Arzheimer K. 2009. Contextual factors and the extreme right vote in Western Europe, 1980–2002. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 53:259–75 [Google Scholar]
  4. Bartels LM. 2002. Beyond the running tally: partisan bias in political perceptions. Polit. Behav. 24:117–50 [Google Scholar]
  5. Blinder S. 2013. Imagined immigration: the impact of different meanings of ‘immigrants’ in public opinion and policy debates in Britain. Polit. Stud. In press [Google Scholar]
  6. Blinder S, Ford R, Ivarsflaten E. 2013. The better angels of our nature: how the antiprejudice norm affects policy and party preferences in Great Britain and Germany. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 57:841–57 [Google Scholar]
  7. Bobo L, Licari FC. 1989. Education and political tolerance. Public Opin. Q. 53:285–307 [Google Scholar]
  8. Brader T, Valentino NA, Suhay E. 2008. What triggers public opposition to immigration? Anxiety, group cues, and immigration threat. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 52:959–78 [Google Scholar]
  9. Branton R, Cassese EC, Jones BS, Westerland C. 2011. All along the watchtower: acculturation fear, anti-Latino affect, and immigration. J. Polit. 73:664–79 [Google Scholar]
  10. Burns P, Gimpel JG. 2000. Economic insecurity, prejudicial stereotypes, and public opinion on immigration policy. Polit. Sci. Q. 115:201–25 [Google Scholar]
  11. Cain BE, Citrin J, Wong C. 2000. Ethnic Context, Race Relations, and California Politics San Francisco: Public Policy Inst. Calif. [Google Scholar]
  12. Campbell AL, Citrin J, Wong CJ. 2006. Racial threat, partisan climate, and direct democracy: contextual effects in three California initiatives. Polit. Behav. 28:129–50 [Google Scholar]
  13. Card D, Dustmann C, Preston I. 2012. Immigration, wages, and compositional amenities. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 10:78–119 [Google Scholar]
  14. Ceobanu AM, Escandell X. 2010. Comparative analyses of public attitudes toward immigrants and immigration using multinational survey data: a review of theories and research. Annu. Rev. Sociol. 36:309–28 [Google Scholar]
  15. Chandler CR, Tsai YM. 2001. Social factors influencing immigration attitudes: an analysis of data from the General Social Survey. Soc. Sci. J. 38:177–88 [Google Scholar]
  16. Citrin J, Green DP, Muste C, Wong C. 1997. Public opinion toward immigration reform: the role of economic motivations. J. Polit. 59:858–81 [Google Scholar]
  17. Citrin J, Sides J. 2008. Immigration and the imagined community in Europe and the United States. Polit. Stud. 56:33–56 [Google Scholar]
  18. Crepaz MM, Damron R. 2009. Constructing tolerance: how the welfare state shapes attitudes about immigrants. Comp. Polit. Stud. 42:437–63 [Google Scholar]
  19. Dancygier RM. 2010. Immigration and Conflict in Europe Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  20. Dancygier RM, Donnelly MJ. 2013. Sectoral economies, economic contexts, and attitudes toward immigration. J. Polit. 75:17–35 [Google Scholar]
  21. Dancygier RM, Laitin D. 2014. Immigration into Europe: economic discrimination, violence, and public policy. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 1743–64 [Google Scholar]
  22. Dancygier RM, Saunders EN. 2006. A new electorate? Comparing preferences and partisanship between immigrants and natives. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 50:962–81 [Google Scholar]
  23. de Figueiredo RJP, Elkins Z. 2003. Are patriots bigots? An inquiry into the vices of in-group pride. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 47:171–88 [Google Scholar]
  24. Dunaway J, Branton RP, Abrajano MA. 2010. Agenda setting, public opinion, and the issue of immigration reform. Soc. Sci. Q. 91:359–78 [Google Scholar]
  25. Dustmann C, Preston I. 2007. Racial and economic factors in attitudes to immigration. B. E. J. Econ. Anal. Policy 7:62 [Google Scholar]
  26. Ellison CG, Shin H, Leal DL. 2011. The contact hypothesis and attitudes toward Latinos in the United States. Soc. Sci. Q. 92:938–58 [Google Scholar]
  27. Enos RD. 2014. The causal effect of prolonged intergroup contact on exclusionary attitudes: a test using public transportation in homogeneous communities Proc. Nat. Acad. Sci. In press [Google Scholar]
  28. Espenshade TJ, Calhoun CA. 1993. An analysis of public opinion toward undocumented immigration. Popul. Res. Policy Rev. 12:189–224 [Google Scholar]
  29. Facchini G, Mayda AM. 2009. Does the welfare state affect individual attitudes toward immigrants? Evidence across countries. Rev. Econ. Stat. 91:295–314 [Google Scholar]
  30. Fetzer JS. 2000. Public Attitudes Toward Immigration in the United States, France, and Germany New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  31. Ford R. 2011. Acceptable and unacceptable immigrants: how opposition to immigration in Britain is affected by migrants' region of origin. J. Ethn. Migr. Stud. 37:1017–37 [Google Scholar]
  32. Ford R, Goodwin M. 2014. Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain. Abington, UK: Routledge [Google Scholar]
  33. Ford R, Morrell G, Heath A. 2012. “Fewer but better”? Public attitudes to immigration. British Social Attitudes: The 29th Report A Park, E Clery, J Curtice, M Phillips, D Utting 26–44 London: NatCen Soc. Res. [Google Scholar]
  34. Gadarian SK, Albertson B. 2013. Anxiety, immigration, and the search for information. Polit. Psychol In press. doi: 10.1111/pops.12034 [Google Scholar]
  35. Gilens M. 2012. Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America New York: Russell Sage and Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  36. Green DP, Cowden JA. 1992. Who protests: self-interest and white opposition to busing. J. Polit. 54:471–96 [Google Scholar]
  37. Green DP, Palmquist B, Schickler E. 2002. Partisan Hearts and Minds New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  38. Ha SE. 2010. The consequences of multiracial contexts on public attitudes toward immigration. Polit. Res. Q. 63:29–42 [Google Scholar]
  39. Hainmueller J, Hangartner D. 2013. Who gets a Swiss passport? A natural experiment in immigrant discrimination. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 107:159–87 [Google Scholar]
  40. Hainmueller J, Hiscox MJ. 2007. Educated preferences: explaining attitudes towards immigration in Europe. Int. Organ. 61:399–442 [Google Scholar]
  41. Hainmueller J, Hiscox MJ. 2010. Attitudes toward highly skilled and low-skilled immigration: evidence from a survey experiment. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 104:61–84 [Google Scholar]
  42. Hainmueller J, Hiscox MJ, Margalit YM. 2011. Do concerns about labour market competition shape attitudes toward immigration? New evidence MIT Polit. Sci. Dep. Res. Paper. 2011-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1900149 [Google Scholar]
  43. Hainmueller J, Hopkins DJ. 2012. The hidden American immigration consensus: a conjoint analysis of attitudes toward immigrants MIT Polit. Sci. Dep. Res. Pap. 2012-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2106116 [Google Scholar]
  44. Hainmueller J, Hopkins DJ, Yamamoto T. 2014. Causal inference in conjoint analysis: understanding multidimensional choices via stated preference experiments. Polit. Anal. 221–30 [Google Scholar]
  45. Hajnal Z, Rivera M. 2012. Immigration, Latinos, and white partisan politics: the new Democratic defection Work. Pap., Dep. Polit. Sci., Univ. Calif. San Diego [Google Scholar]
  46. Hanson GH, Scheve KF, Slaughter MJ. 2007. Public finance and individual preferences over globalization strategies. Econ. Polit. 19:1–33 [Google Scholar]
  47. Harell A, Soroka S, Iyengar S, Valentino NA. 2012. The impact of economic and cultural cues on support for immigration in Canada and the United States. Can. J. Polit. Sci. 45:499–530 [Google Scholar]
  48. Hartman T, Newman B, Bell S. 2013. Decoding prejudice toward Hispanics: group cues and public reactions to threatening immigrant behavior. Polit. Behav. In press [Google Scholar]
  49. Hood MV, Morris IL. 1998. Give us your tired, your poor,…but make sure they have a green card: the effects of documented and undocumented migrant context on Anglo opinion toward immigration. Polit. Behav. 20:1–15 [Google Scholar]
  50. Hopkins DJ. 2010. Politicized places: explaining where and when immigrants provoke opposition. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 104:40–60 [Google Scholar]
  51. Hopkins DJ. 2011. National debates, local responses: the origins of local concern about immigration in Britain and the United States. Br. J. Polit. Sci. 41:499–524 [Google Scholar]
  52. Hopkins DJ. 2014a. One language, two meanings: partisanship and responses to Spanish. Polit. Comm. In press [Google Scholar]
  53. Hopkins DJ. 2014b. The upside of accents: language, skin tone, and attitudes toward immigration. Br. J. Polit. Sci. In press [Google Scholar]
  54. Hopkins DJ, Tran VC, Williamson AF. 2014. See no Spanish: language, local context, and attitudes toward immigration. Polit. Groups Identities. In press [Google Scholar]
  55. Ilias S, Fennelly K, Federico CM. 2008. American attitudes toward guest worker policies. Int. Migr. Rev. 42:741–66 [Google Scholar]
  56. Ivarsflaten E. 2005. Threatened by diversity: why restrictive asylum and immigration policies appeal to Western Europeans. J. Elect. Public Opin. Parties 15:21–45 [Google Scholar]
  57. Iyengar S, Jackman S, Messing S, Aalberg T, Duch R. et al. 2013a. Do attitudes about immigration predict willingness to admit individual immigrants? A cross-national test of the person-positivity bias. Public Opin. Q. 77641–65 [Google Scholar]
  58. Iyengar S, Messing S, Valentino N, Duch R, Hahn K, Kobayashi T. 2013b. Economic and cultural threat as antecedents of opposition to immigration: cross national evidence from the U.S., U.K., Japan, and South Korea. Work. Pap., Dep. Comm., Stanford Univ. [Google Scholar]
  59. Kehrberg JE. 2007. Public opinion on immigration in Western Europe: economics, tolerance, and exposure. Comp. Eur. Polit. 5:264–81 [Google Scholar]
  60. Kinder DR, Kam CD. 2009. Us Against Them: Ethnocentric Foundations of American Opinion Chicago: Univ. Chicago Press [Google Scholar]
  61. Kinder DR, Kiewiet DR. 1981. Sociotropic politics: the American case. Br. J. Polit. Sci. 11:129–61 [Google Scholar]
  62. Knoll BR, Redlawsk DP, Sanborn H. 2011. Framing labels and immigration policy attitudes in the Iowa caucuses: trying to out-Tancredo Tancredo. Polit. Behav. 33:433–54 [Google Scholar]
  63. Lahav G. 2012. Immigration and Politics in the New Europe New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  64. Lahav G, Courtemanche M. 2012. The ideological effects of framing threat on immigration and civil liberties. Polit. Behav. 34:477–505 [Google Scholar]
  65. Lapinski JS, Peltola P, Shaw G, Yang A. 1997. Trends: immigrants and immigration. Public Opin. Q. 61:356–83 [Google Scholar]
  66. Lee TL, Fiske ST. 2006. Not an outgroup, not yet an ingroup: immigrants in the stereotype content model. Int. J. Intercult. Relat. 30:751–68 [Google Scholar]
  67. Malhotra N, Margalit Y, Mo CH. 2013. Economic explanations for opposition to immigration: distinguishing between prevalence and conditional impact. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 57:391–410 [Google Scholar]
  68. Mayda AM. 2006. Who is against immigration? A cross-country investigation of individual attitudes toward immigrants. Rev. Econ. Stat. 88:510–30 [Google Scholar]
  69. McClain P, Lackey G, Pérez E, Carter N, Carew JJ. et al. 2011. Intergroup relations in three Southern cities. Just Neighbors? Research on African American and Latino Relations in the United States E Telles, M Sawyer, G Rivera-Salgado 201–41 New York: Russell Sage [Google Scholar]
  70. McLaren L. 2003. Anti-immigrant prejudice in Europe: contact, threat perception, and preferences for the exclusion of migrants. Soc. Forces 81:3909–36 [Google Scholar]
  71. McLaren L, Johnson M. 2007. Resources, group conflict and symbols: explaining anti-immigration hostility in Britain. Polit. Stud. 55:709–32 [Google Scholar]
  72. Merolla JL, Pantoja AD, Cargile IA, Mora J. 2012. From coverage to action: the immigration debate and its effects on participation. Polit. Res. Q. 66:322–35 [Google Scholar]
  73. Merolla JL, Ramakrishnan SK, Hayes C. 2013. “Ilegal,” “undocumented,” or “unauthorized”: equivalency frames, issue frames, and public opinion on immigration. Persp. Polit. 11:789–807 [Google Scholar]
  74. Messina AM. 1989. Race and Party Competition in Britain Oxford, UK: Clarendon [Google Scholar]
  75. Money J. 1999. Fences and Neighbors: The Political Geography of Immigration Control Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  76. Neiman M, Johnson M, Bowler S. 2006. Partisanship and views about immigration in Southern California: Just how partisan is the issue of immigration?. Int. Migr. 44:35–56 [Google Scholar]
  77. Newman BJ. 2013. Acculturating contexts and Anglo opposition to immigration in the U.S. Am. J. Polit. Sci. 57:374–90 [Google Scholar]
  78. Newman BJ, Hartman TK, Taber CS. 2012. Foreign language exposure, cultural threat, and opposition to immigration. Polit. Psychol. 33:635–57 [Google Scholar]
  79. Newman BJ, Hartman TK, Taber CS. 2013a. Social dominance and the cultural politics of immigration. Polit. Psychol. In press [Google Scholar]
  80. Newman BJ, Velez Y, Hartman TK, Blankert A. 2013b. Are citizens “receiving the treatment”? Assessing a key link in contextual theories of public opinion and political behavior. Polit. Psychol. In press [Google Scholar]
  81. O'Rourke KH, Sinnott R. 2006. The determinants of individual attitudes towards immigration. Eur. J. Polit. Econ. 22:838–61 [Google Scholar]
  82. Ottaviano GIP, Peri G. 2012. Rethinking the effect of immigration on wages. J. Eur. Econ. Assoc. 10:152–97 [Google Scholar]
  83. Paxton P, Mughan A. 2006. What's to fear from immigrants? Creating an assimilationist threat scale. Polit. Psychol. 27:549–68 [Google Scholar]
  84. Pérez EO. 2010. Explicit evidence on the import of implicit attitudes: the IAT and immigration policy judgments. Polit. Behav. 32:517–45 [Google Scholar]
  85. Pérez EO. 2013. Implicit attitudes: meaning, measurement, and synergy with political science. Polit. Groups Ident. 1:275–97 [Google Scholar]
  86. Scheve KF, Slaughter MJ. 2001. Labor market competition and individual preferences over immigration policy. Rev. Econ. Stat. 83:133–45 [Google Scholar]
  87. Schildkraut DJ. 2005. Press One for English: Language Policy, Public Opinion, and American Identity Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  88. Schildkraut DJ. 2011. Americanism in the Twenty-First Century: Public Opinion in the Age of Immigration New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  89. Schildkraut DJ. 2014. Boundaries of American identity: evolving understandings of “us.”. Annu. Rev. Polit. Sci. 17441–60 [Google Scholar]
  90. Sears DO, Funk CL. 1991. The role of self-interest in social and political attitudes. Adv. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 24:1–91 [Google Scholar]
  91. Segovia F, Defever R. 2010. The polls—trends: American public opinion on immigrants and immigration policy. Public Opin. Q. 74:375–94 [Google Scholar]
  92. Sides J, Citrin J. 2007. European opinion about immigration: the role of identities, interests, and information. Br. J. Polit. Sci. 37:477–504 [Google Scholar]
  93. Sniderman PM, Hagendoorn A. 2007. When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  94. Sniderman PM, Hagendoorn L, Prior M. 2004. Predisposing factors and situational triggers: exclusionary reactions to immigrant minorities. Am. Polit. Sci. Rev. 98:35–49 [Google Scholar]
  95. Sniderman PM, Peri P, de Figueiredo RJP, Piazza T. 2000. The Outsider: Prejudice and Politics in Italy Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  96. Theiss-Morse E. 2009. Who Counts as an American? The Boundaries of National Identity New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  97. Tichenor D. 2002. Dividing Lines: The Politics of Immigration Control in America Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  98. Tingley D. 2013. Public finance and immigration preferences: a lost connection. Polity 45:4–33 [Google Scholar]
  99. Tolbert CJ, Hero RE. 1996. Race/ethnicity and direct democracy: an analysis of California's illegal immigration. J. Polit. 58:806–18 [Google Scholar]
  100. Valentino NA, Brader T, Jardina AE. 2013. Immigration opposition among U.S. whites: general ethnocentrism or media priming of attitudes about Latinos?. Polit. Psychol. 34:149–66 [Google Scholar]
  101. Wilkes R, Guppy N, Farris L. 2008. “No thanks, we're full”: individual characteristics, national context, and changing attitudes toward immigration. Int. Migr. Rev. 42:302–29 [Google Scholar]
  102. Wong CJ. 2010. Boundaries of Obligation in American Politics: Geographic, National, and Racial Communities New York: Cambridge Univ. Press [Google Scholar]
  103. Wright M, Citrin J. 2011. Saved by the Stars and Stripes? Images of protest, salience of threat, and immigration attitudes. Am. Polit. Res. 39:323–43 [Google Scholar]
  104. Wright M, Citrin J, Wand J. 2012. Alternative measures of American national identity: implications for the civic-ethnic distinction. Polit. Psychol. 33:469–82 [Google Scholar]
  105. Wright M, Levy M, Citrin J. 2013. Who should be allowed to stay? American public opinion on legal status for illegal immigrants. Work. Pap., Am. Univ.
  • Article Type: Review Article
This is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Approval was a Success
Invalid data
An Error Occurred
Approval was partially successful, following selected items could not be processed due to error