How Do Americans Really Feel about Immigrants?

Attitudes toward immigration have shifted dramatically in recent years, but the reason once suspected, socioeconomic issues, are not as much at play as previously thought. This finding, revealed in two separate studies, is the source of a review by Carol Tan featured in Journalist’s Resource, published by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, a Corporation grantee. 

Researchers Jens Haimueller of Stanford University and Daniel J. Hopkins of Georgetown University decided to further investigate findings from their 2013 metastudy in Public Opinion Quarterly, which found that economic problems did not increase opposition to immigration as was once previously thought.  The found instead that the significant uptick in negative opinion towards immigrants emerged after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001,  and has continued to help fuel  the current debate over immigration policy.

Hainmueller and Hopkins synthesized  100 of the most comprehensive studies on attitudes of U.S.-born residents towards immigrants, investigating the two major scholarly approaches toward the question — both the “political economy” and the “sociopsychological” to help pinpoint underlying factors that would more clearly explain the shift.

Their research found that the economic approach to studying public attitudes on immigration was not an accurate measure, while sociopsychological approaches have become more reliable in explaining the formation of negative attitudes toward immigrants from those born in the United States.

The scholars concluded that more research should focus on how groups and political parties mobilize efforts around immigration, particularly as U.S. midterm elections approach and the country gears up for presidential elections in 2016. “As a political issue, immigration relates strongly to conceptions of national identity and boundaries, and it has an emotional resonance that many issues do not,” the report says.

Read more on Journalist’s Resource.