More evidence of tabloid influence on perceptions of immigration

Earlier this week, I mentioned how MigrationWatch quoted a poll from last year suggesting 3 quarters of people thought immigration was a problem, without bothering to mention another that showed most people thought immigration was much higher than it actually is.

That poll, the Transatlantic Trends Survey was published earlier this month, showing people in the UK are far more hostile to the idea of immigration than in seven other countries. But people in the UK greatly overestimated the number of immigrants in the population, with the average UK respondent estimating 3 in 10 have come from abroad. In fact the number is around 1 in 10.

Two thirds of British people also thought immigration to the UK was too high - but only if they were asked without being told the actual figure. If they were told, that number dropped to around a third.

It seems a lot of people in the UK don't like immigration much because they have a false perception of how high immigration is.

Thanks to Anonymous in the comments on 'MigrationWatch - it's a tough existence, being anti-immigration', I've come across another poll into attitudes to immigration in the UK.

Last week, Ipsos Mori produced 'Does Immigration Matter?', which didn't get an awful lot of coverage in the press. Only Jack Doyle, winner of the inaugural 5cc tabloid bullshit of the month award paid it any attention, churning a little of the press release into his story, focusing on what younger people thought.

It might have only got a little bit of coverage because the poll backs up some of the results of the Transatlantic Trends Survey. A high percentage of respondents (75%) thought immigration was a fairly big or very big problem. But, like Transatlantic Trends, people tended to overestimate the number of immigrants in the UK.

56% thought the UK has a higher proportion of immigrants than other countries in Europe, and 58% thought the UK has a higher proportion of asylum seekers. Eurostat figures would put the UK at around 12th in the 27 EU countries for the percentage of people in the country who were born abroad, and 14th for the number of asylum applications per million inhabitants.

As the press release to the poll says, "Despite the majority of people seeing immigration as a problem, the public's attitudes towards immigration are formed on misconceptions."

'Does Immigration Matter?' doesn't show adjusted figures for those told the actual level of immigration, but it does break down respondents by the sort of newspaper they read. 84% of people who read centre right or popular newspapers thought immigration was a problem, and an unsurprising 86% of Daily Mail readers thought so.

Things get a bit more complex when the poll asks respondents for their two main sources of information about immigration. 55% of people chose television and radio news as one source and 19% chose tabloids, but these aren't broken down into people who thought immigration was a problem, and the TV/radio isn't further broken down, so it's impossible to tell how many people overlap with TV/radio and tabloids, how many mean news bulletins/reports and how many mean radio phone-ins, where lots of the topics are taken from the tabloids. It would be nice to see how these break down, but we shouldn't see everyone but the tabloids as pro-immigration or even totally fair either.

Let's not forget Paul Dacre's speech to Society of Editors in 2008, where he boasted:
Why does not half an hour go by that the high priests of the subsidariat, the BBC, can’t resist a snide reference to the popular press, again blissfully oblivious that all too often they are following agendas set by those very popular newspapers whose readers pay their salaries.
People are not confronted with an anti-immigration popular press on one hand and pro-immigration TV/Radio news sources on the other. We have an anti-immigration popular press that regularly exaggerates and misinforms on one hand and more balanced TV/Radio news that still treats immigration as a problem on the other. Sections like 'Immigration cap 'good news for Britain'' on the BBC Today Programme, with Sir Andrew Green of MigrationWatch infamy as a guest are the sort of thing we see on the supposedly liberal elitist BBC. This approach is way better than the tabloids', but combine the two approaches and there's precious little pro or neutral information about immigration readily available.

There is another pointer towards respondents having unrealistic ideas about immigration - a question about whether it is a problem in their local area. 71% thought it wasn't, almost as many as thought it was nationally. So, in most people's direct experience, immigration isn't a problem. It's only when they look outside their own experience that people think it is, and where do people get information about what's happening outside their area from?

Do the tabloids make people anti-immigration, or xenophobic, or racist? Not directly. It's not like someone normal is going to read a copy of the Express and suddenly start pushing over black people. But they contribute to an environment where immigration is perpetually discussed as a problem, and they provide misleading and inaccurate information about it. These polls show that this environment has its effect on people, who generally think immigration is much higher than it is and that it's a bigger problem outside their area than it is in their experience.

As the press release for 'Does immigration matter?' says:
With the vast majority of people getting their information on immigration from broadcast and print media, the exceptional stories that appear in the press have clearly had an effect on Britons.


Jamie said...

"56% thought the UK has a higher proportion of immigrants than other countries in the UK"

Other countries in the EU, no? =P Excellent post.

Five Chinese Crackers said...

Ah - right. I've fixed that bit now. No-one will ever know.

claude said...

I agree wholeheartedly. With you, that is.

Dismissing the mid to long-term effect of the anti-immigration bombardment carried out daily by our tabloids is supremely superficial.