Economic Outlook Shapes Views of Immigration

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The FINANCIAL — People’s views about their national and personal economic situations may be the strongest predictors of their attitudes toward immigration, according to a Gallup study of attitudes toward immigration in 142 countries. Worldwide, the study finds people who say their economic situations are “poor” or “getting worse” are more likely to favor lower immigration levels in their countries. The reverse is also true: Those who see their situations as “good” or “getting better” are more likely to want to see higher levels of immigration.

These findings are among those featured in the International Organization for Migration’s new report, How the World Views Migration, which is based on Gallup World Poll interviews with more than 183,000 adults across 142 countries between 2012 and 2014. Adults worldwide were asked two questions about immigration: “In your view, should immigration in this country be kept at its present level, increased or decreased?” and “Do you think immigrants mostly take jobs that citizens in this country do not want (e.g., low-paying or not prestigious jobs), or mostly take jobs that citizens in this country want?”

Globally, adults who believe economic conditions in their countries are “fair” or “poor” are almost twice as likely to say immigration levels should decrease (42%) as are those who say conditions are “excellent” or “good” (25%). The same pattern is evident when examining people’s outlooks for their countries’ economic future — those who say conditions are “getting worse” are nearly twice as likely to say immigration should decrease as those who say conditions are “getting better” (48% vs. 25%, respectively).

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In nearly all regions of the world, people who see their economic conditions as excellent or good are more likely to have positive outlooks on immigration. These gaps are quite large in several countries, including the United States (46% vs. 25%), Germany (43% vs. 25%), Canada (41% vs. 21%) and China (22% vs. 11%).

Africa follows the global pattern, but the differences in attitudes toward immigration based on economic views are not as large as in other regions. In addition to Africa, in some countries, such as South Korea, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Jordan, Israel, Iraq, Malta, Belgium, Macedonia and Venezuela, there is no or very little difference in attitudes toward immigration by people’s perceptions about the national economy.

People in Countries With Higher Unemployment Rates Are the Most Negative

Adults who live in countries with the highest unemployment rates show the most negative attitudes toward immigration to their countries. Nearly half of adults in countries with unemployment rates higher than 15% believe immigration should decrease.

People’s personal employment status also strongly relates to whether they want to see lower immigration levels. Compared with others in the workforce, those who are not working but are actively looking for work and able to begin work are considerably more likely to want immigration decreased (40% of the unemployed vs. 33% of those not unemployed).

People With Better Living Standards Are More Positive Toward Immigration

In all regions, personal economics — both in terms of subjective measures such as perceptions about one’s standard of living and objective measures such as household income — relate to people’s attitudes toward immigration levels.

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Adults who are satisfied with their standard of living and feel that it is improving are more likely to support increasing or maintaining immigration levels in their countries. As with their outlooks on the future economic conditions in their countries, there is a stronger relationship between residents’ attitudes toward migration and their perceptions of their future living standards than of their current situations. Residents in all regions who say that their standard of living is “getting better” are more likely than those who say it is “getting worse” to say that immigration should stay at its present level or increase, and they are less likely to want to see it decreased.


People’s outlooks on their national economies, personal standards of living and (to a lesser extent) household incomes are strong indicators of their views of immigration, but they do not strongly predict people’s opinions about whether they think migrants compete with native workers for jobs in their countries. People’s views on job competition between nationals and migrants are, however, related to opinions about immigration levels. These attitudes will be analyzed in Gallup’s next article in this series.


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