First results from major longitudinal survey on attitudes to immigration

In a unique survey, Ipsos will be interviewing a longitudinal panel of respondents on their attitudes to immigration throughout and after the election campaign.

In a unique survey, Ipsos will be interviewing a longitudinal panel of participants on their attitudes to immigration throughout and after the election campaign. This will provide a much more detailed understanding of how and why views change.

For the first wave we have also interviewed an unusually large sample of the public (over 4,500), which allows us to look at smaller sub-groups, including followers of all key parties and those who have switched parties since the last election.

Fieldwork was completed online, from 25 February to 4 March 2015 and the key findings are outlined below.

10 Key findings:

  1. Satisfaction with the government’s handling of immigration is low, with just 12% satisfied – and there is near universal dissatisfaction among those who’ve switched from Conservative to UKIP: 6 in 10 are dissatisfied with how the government is dealing with immigration, and only 12% are satisfied, which is the lowest we’ve measured since 2007. Among those currently intending to vote Conservative, 45% are dissatisfied – which rises to 94% dissatisfied among those who voted Conservative in 2010 but now intend to vote UKIP.
  2. The current government is no better thought of on immigration than the previous Labour government: Only 27% think the current government’s handling of immigration has been better than under the previous Labour government – and 26% say they’re handling it worse, with the rest saying both are the same. Of those who voted Conservative in 2010 but now intend to vote UKIP, 48% think there is no difference between the Conservatives and Labour on handling immigration – 32% think the Conservatives are better, 19% think worse.
  3. A large proportion of the public say they’ve become more worried about immigration since the last election: 41% of people say their views on immigration have changed since last election in 2010, and 86% of these say they have got more worried. 57% of UKIP supporters have changed their views since 2010, compared to 44% of Conservatives and 39% of Labour supporters. The large majority of those who’ve changed their views have become more worried: 97% among UKIP supporters, 90% of Conservatives and 80% of Labour supporters.
  4. This is despite – or perhaps because of – a recognition that we’re talking about immigration more: The majority think we’re discussing immigration more now than at the time of the last election – 57% say more and only 10% say less. 66% of those intending to vote Lib Dem say more, compared with 62% of Labour and Conservative supporters respectively – slightly fewer UKIP supporters (53%) feel this way.
  5. But views are polarising – there has been a big increase in people thinking we’re talking about it too much: But 37% say we’re still talking about immigration too little, compared with 27% who say too much and 28% about the right amount. This however is a big increase in the proportion saying “too much” since 2011, when only 11% said we are talking about it too much. Nearly half of Lib Dem and Green supporters think we’re talking about immigration too much (48% each) compared with 38% of Labour supporters and 18% of Conservatives – only 4% of people intending to vote UKIP think this, 74% of them think it has been discussed too little.
  6. People greatly overestimate the proportion of immigrants in the country – but this varies between supporters of different parties: the average guess from the public on what proportion of the UK population is foreign born is 21%, when the latest official estimate is around 13%. But this runs from an estimate that 25% are immigrants among UKIP supporters, Conservatives thinking 21% are, 20% for Labour supporters, 19% SNP - and Lib Dem and Greens both on 16%. This rank order closely reflects how likely each group is to see immigration as a problem, with more worried groups thinking the immigrant population is higher
  7. But overestimating the number of immigrants isn’t always related to greater concern: For example, the pre-war generation (those born before 1945) are the most concerned about immigration among all age groups, but they also have the most accurate view of the scale of the immigrant population (they guess at 17%), while the youngest generation, Generation Y are least concerned but most likely to overestimate the scale of immigration (24%)
  8. More generally there is a growing generational divide on immigration: in the early 2000s there was relatively little difference between the oldest and youngest on concern about immigration, but in the last few years older generations have become much more concerned than younger generations,
  9. Immigration and Europe do not seem entirely “fused” in the public mind: 40% say they would like to leave the EU to help control immigration, while 47% say they would not. But it does not seem that EU membership and immigration control is particularly closely joined in people’s minds. 60% of people mention either immigration or the EU as a key issue, but less than half of this group (only 23% of people overall) say that both immigration and the EU are important to them.
  10. Political allegiance is now the most important predictor of who worries about immigration: Throughout much of the 2000s, newspaper readership and where you lived were the best predictors of how likely people were to think immigration was an important issue in our analytical models - with what political party you supported barely featuring. But this has changed markedly in recent years, with political allegiance now being the most important predictor. At one end of the spectrum, not surprisingly, UKIP supporters are by far the most likely to think that immigration is an issue, even after controlling for differences in their demographic profile. At the other end of the scale Green Party supporters are the least likely to be concerned.

Bobby Duffy, Managing Director of the Ipsos Social Research Institute said:

"This is the first set of results from a unique longitudinal study of views on immigration – which will help us understand not just what views are, but how and why they change. And looking back, it’s clear how much views have changed since the last election. Concern about immigration has grown, but while there is increased recognition that we’re discussing it more, this is not satisfying many people, with growing proportions thinking we’re talking about it too much, but still the largest group thinking we’re not talking about it enough – the debate is polarising. This is seen very directly in the relationship with our political allegiance. For many years, there was little relationship between which party you supported and your views on immigration, when we controlled for background characteristics. But this has shifted hugely – politics has caught up, and our political options on immigration have also polarised. We will be following up the same individuals three further times, to see if and how views have changed during the campaign and after the election."

Technical Note

For this first wave of the longitudinal study, Ipsos interviewed a representative sample of 4,574 British online adults aged 16-75 between 25 February – 4 March 2015, with funding from Unbound Philanthropy. Interviews were conducted on Ipsos’ online panel and results have been weighted by demographic factors to represent the British population.

Some trend data referenced here and shown in the accompanying charts uses a different methodological approach therefore comparisons should be made with caution.

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