Constituencies with more migrants are less concerned about immigration

Attention preservation notice: for a full listing of constituencies showing their attitude towards immigration, download the spreadsheet

When journalists were writing their colour pieces about Clacton last week, one commonly occurring theme was concern about immigration. Residents of Clacton seemed concerned about immigration, and their concern seemed unrelated to the actual number of immigrants living in Clacton.

Just as last week we were able to show that Clacton was one of the most Euroskeptic constituencies, this week, using the techniques that we have discussed in previous posts, we’re able to show that Clacton is also one of the constituencies where voters are more likely to say that immigration is having a negative impact on British culture. This makes sense: one of the founding principles of the European Union is freedom of movement; freedom of movement allows larger flows of migration to and from Britain (and in practice has led to larger net inflows), and so any voters who are concerned about migration may be opposed to the European Union for these reasons.

Like last week’s measure, our data is taken from Waves 1 and 2 of the 2015 British Election Study. The question respondents were asked was this:

Do you think that immigration undermines or enriches Britain’s cultural life?

Respondents could give answers on a seven-point scale, where higher numbers indicate that the respondent believes that immigration enriches Britain’s cultural life.

The top and bottom five constituencies by this measure are plotted below. Many of the constituencies which feature in this list also featured in last week’s list. Indeed, the correlation between constituency Euroskepticism and constituency concern about immigration is extremely strong, at 0.94.


It is worth noting that many of the constituencies which are most concerned by immigration are also those with the fewer number of migrants. This holds across constituencies in England and Wales. Using data from Nomisweb (which collates information from the 2011 census, except where it is not yet available… hem, hem, Scotland) we were able to calculate the proportion of residents in each constituency who were born outside of the British Isles.

We plot the percentage of residents from outside of the British Isles against concern about immigration below. Points are coloured according to the party which won the seat in 2010. Note that this can’t (by construction) deal with the number of illegal migrants, or migrants who pass through without being resident for the purposes of the census.


As the graph shows, there’s a strong and statistically significant negative correlation between the proportion of migrants and concern about immigration. Constituencies like Kensington are intensely relaxed about immigration — and they have a lot of immigrants. Clacton is, in so so many ways, the polar opposite of this picture.

This is sometimes viewed as paradoxical. If — to take Clacton as our continued example — voters in Clacton have very little experience of migration, how can they be negatively affected by it in a way which would cause them to be concerned?

There isn’t really a paradox here: we can all be concerned by things which don’t personally affect us. Indeed, not only is this relationship not paradoxical, it makes sense if we think about commonly accepted theories of inter-group relations. The contact hypothesis suggests that conflict between potentially antagonistic groups is reduced the more these two groups come into contact. Contact forces people to moderate their stereotypes. Respondents start by thinking “I don’t like [group X], but [member of group X] is a sound bloke”, and then proceed to moderate their views on the group in the light of their evaluations of named individuals.

The contact hypothesis is not universally accepted (see for example, Dan Hopkin’s work) — and a lot of the `nicer’ questions concerning the nature and intensity of the contact have to be tailored to the particular application — but it does make sense of this curious pattern.

For a full listing of constituencies showing their attitude towards immigration, download the spreadsheet

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