A large body of research shows that those with higher levels of education have more liberal preferences on immigration, but has that changed in recent years? This study finds little evidence of long-term change in preference on immigration across Europe, despite the rise of populism.
The study uses data gathered by the European Social Survey in 12 countries between 2002 and 2016, typically a sample of 2000 people in each country, each questioned eight times during the period.
It asks whether the education gap in immigration preference is affected by shocks such as increases in unemployment or new waves of refugee arrivals. And despite concern about the rise of anti-immigration sentiment, it does not find any clear trend to suggest preferences are becoming less liberal. The education gap in immigration preference has remained stable over time.
However, the polarisation of preference tends to increase when unemployment is high and when union membership is low. How can these findings be explained at a time when anti-immigration groups have been on the rise?
The researchers suggest that although people’s preferences have not changed, voters may be prioritising immigration as an issue when they choose how to vote. Further research is needed to
understand how these processes work.