Just one in five Britons say EU immigration has had a negative effect on them personally

As polling day approaches, new research finds the public is divided when it comes to how EU immigration has affected Britain; despite relatively few saying it has had a negative impact on their own life.

Just one in five Britons say EU immigration has had a negative effect on them personally

  • More (46%) think EU immigration has been good rather than bad (30%) for the economy, but over half (55%) say it has had a negative effect on the NHS
  • Half say immigration has had no impact on their own area, while a quarter say it has had a positive impact and the same say it has had a negative impact

As polling day approaches, new research from Ipsos MORI finds the public is divided when it comes to how EU immigration has affected Britain; despite relatively few saying it has had a negative impact on their own life. The findings, published today, show that four in ten Britons (39%) think immigration from the EU has been good for Britain on the whole, and a nearly equal proportion (42%) think it has been bad. Looking at how this changes depending on how people intend to vote in the referendum finds more than six in ten (65%) Leave supporters say immigration has been bad for the country, and just 19% say the opposite. Remain voters have mirror-image attitudes, with 62% saying immigration has been good for the country, and just 20% saying it has been bad. Strikingly, people aged 18 to 34 are twice as likely as those aged over 55 to think EU immigration has been good for Britain (50% compared with 25%). We are more likely to think Britain has benefited from EU immigration economically; almost half the public (46%) think it this is the case compared with three in ten (30%) who say the opposite. Remain supporters are twice as positive as Leave voters, with seven in ten (70%) saying the effect on the economy has been good compared to 28% of Leave voters. Those who may change their mind are less enthusiastic, but on balance think there has been a positive impact (39% say the impact has been good compared with 31% saying bad.) We are also slightly more positive than negative about immigration’s impact on society and culture; 42% say it has been positive for culture and society, compared with 36% who say it has been bad. The one area where there is clearer consensus that the effect of EU immigration has been negative is the NHS. Whilst a quarter of the public (27%) thinks EU immigration has been good for the NHS, more than half (55%) think is has been bad. However, despite high levels of concern generally, almost half the public (47%) says it has had no impact on the area where they live. A quarter of public (24%) says it has been good for their area and the same proportion says it has been bad. Among Leave voters almost half (45%) say it has had no impact on where they live (compared with 49% of Remain voters). Similarly, when asked what impact EU immigration has had on them personally, the majority (51%) say it has had no impact. A quarter (27%) say it has been good for them compared with one in five (19%) who say it has been bad. Even among Leave voters, half (52%) say it has had no impact on them personally (rising to 61% of people who may change their mind). Remain voters are actively far more positive about the impact on their own life, with nearly half (47%) saying it has had a positive effect on themselves. Despite being more negative about immigration more generally, people aged over 55 are more likely to say they have not been affected personally than those aged 18 to 34 (59% compared with 42%). 

Commenting on the findings, Bobby Duffy, Managing Director, Social Research Institute, Ipsos MORI, said: 

“Immigration has become the signal issue in the referendum, the most difficult and divisive topic of a fractious debate. But as this survey shows, the actual direct impact on people’s local areas and lives is much less widespread than the general concern. That doesn’t mean that the concerns aren’t real – we can be legitimately worried about how immigration is changing our country and putting pressure on other parts of society and services like the NHS. But it is still remarkable that the single most important factor driving the leave vote actually only has a direct, day-to-day negative impact on one in five of the population.”

Technical details Ipsos MORI interviewed a representative sample of 1,257 adults aged 18+ across Great Britain. Interviews were conducted by telephone 11th – 14th June 2016. Data are weighted to reflect the GB population profile.

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