New paper says immigration affects public trust in politics


by Sunny
21st September, 2010 at 8:35 pm    

A new Policy Network paper finds that concerns about immigration are an important factor in explaining distrust in politicians and political institutions. The paper by Lauren McLaren, associate professor of politics at Nottingham University, finds that if citizens’ perception of immigration is negative, trust in politics is lower.

The paper, which compares the situation in different European countries, also finds that:

• Political trust does not appear to be related to actual levels of immigration, but rather to how people perceive the effects of immigration.

• The popularity of far-right parties does not appear to be related to levels of political trust.

• In countries where policies are more conducive to the integration of immigrants, the impact of concerns about immigration is stronger than in countries where immigrants face greater barriers to finding work and becoming citizens.

To summarise, the paper says that immigration leads to a breakdown in trust about political institutions and process. Which in turn means that politics is seen as less trusting.

It also occurs to me that if you view from from a left-right prism, where lefties depend more on ‘faith in the political system for working for people‘ – immigration is better news for the right than the left.


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  1. damon — on 21st September, 2010 at 8:56 pm  

    That is a strange opening post to a thread I have to say. How do you respond to that? I’m living at the moment in a place that is so homogeneously white that it makes me do a double take about how odd it is compared to London where I grew up. It’s a part of Belfast where they have union jacks flying from the lampposts.
    The terraced streets could be in Oldham or Blackburn, but they’re not. I wonder what the people would say to their area becoming like Oldham. I think many would not care for it, because what would be in it for them?
    Not a lot really. It’s a poor OP in my opinion, but this bit was interesting:

    In countries where policies are more conducive to the integration of immigrants, the impact of concerns about immigration is stronger than in countries where immigrants face greater barriers to finding work and becoming citizens.

    It opens a ‘can of worms’ I think.

  2. Sarah AB — on 21st September, 2010 at 9:21 pm  

    Yes damon – it would be very interesting to have that bit unpacked a bit. I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

  3. Phil Hunt — on 21st September, 2010 at 11:06 pm  

    Correlation is not causation.

    I suspect what’s actually happening is that people who don’t trust political institutions aren’t very trusting in general and are more likely to have xenophobic attitudes than the general community.

  4. Sunny — on 22nd September, 2010 at 2:12 am  

    I didn’t know how to unpack it either to be honest – so I just put the headline stuff out there FYI. I haven’t had a chance to read it unfortunately

  5. damon — on 22nd September, 2010 at 4:47 pm  

    Can I present this community to you?
    It’s Rod Liddle’s Millwall online football community who live all over south east England it seems?
    Here they are talking about Peckham. The kind of place that many of them have history in in SE London.
    But now it seems that they live all over the outer reaches of SE London.
    http://www.millwall.vitalfootball.co.uk/forum/forums/thread-view.asp?tid=52851&start=1

    I think that they make a useful commentary.
    Not one to be supported perhaps – but they are a major part of the picture.

  6. Arif — on 23rd September, 2010 at 9:27 am  

    I have skimmed through the study. Disagree with some of its assumptions, but they are expressed only tentatively anyway, so not such a big deal.

    What it tries to make clear is that:

    - Level of immigration doesn’t matter, but perceptions do.
    - In well governed societies, these perceptions (of immigrants as a threat) are translated into an even less substantiated perception that society is badly governed.

    So it seems like a case of moral panics being an easy way to reduce faith in governance.

    The solutions suggested are not particularly novel: either stop immigration or alter self-images to change perceptions.

    Stopping immigration seems easier to do with policy levers, but the report argues that that wouldn’t change attitudes to existing immigrants. This is attested to by the BNP not wanting to stop immigration, but also to “repatriate” immigrants.

    Spelling out policies to alter political identities would be useful. Here I disagree with their belief about the nature of national identity in the US (inherently open to immigration) and Europe (imagining homogeneous national communities). The US is prone to a lot of ethnic tension translated into suspicion of the political class and panics about immigration. Individual European states can have many national groups within them and scapegoat different minorities in different times and places. I think such broad perceptions of political identity are much more fluid than the author admits – otherwise the moral panic in the far right would not move from eg. Jews to young African Caribbean males to Muslim men to whoever the next group will be.

    The report did not look into perceptions in relation to class position and perceived economic threats to different social groups. I think that would be an obvious next step given how they find that opposition to immigrants is greatest where they are allowed to work and contribute economically to the countries they move to.

    The sources of perception should also be looked into within the mass media, as that is our primary source of information on the scale and nature of political problems if we do not have much personal experience of a topic.

  7. damon — on 23rd September, 2010 at 11:58 am  

    My last post was asking too much I think.
    I’ve gotten into trouble for saying stuff like that before. Listening to the views of people who say they moved out of an area of high immigration and ethnic minority people is not something anti-racists will often want to do.
    But as this site takes a close interest in the BNP – it’s people who moved out of inner city London to places further out that should be of some interest.
    They say that they didn’t want their white children to be a minority in their school in a place like Peckham for example. And how they themselves want to be able to go about their neighbourhood without feeling they need to be on the defensive. Which if you are a swaggering Millwall type white bloke like these are – you can understand that they might get themselves into trouble in some inner city places these days.
    I think that swaggering white blokes are resented in some places – and that can lead to trouble, so it’s better if they do move out to places in Kent and Essex I guess.

  8. persephone — on 24th September, 2010 at 12:05 am  

    Damon

    What are we ethnics to do? These Millwall sorts are the first to criticise us for not integrating and then they go & move out?

  9. damon — on 24th September, 2010 at 12:20 pm  

    I don’t think there is anything you can do Persephone.
    If they don’t want to live in the new multicultural society where their roots lie, that’s their problem.
    One complaint I heard was not only did they not want their son or daughter to be a minority white kid in a school, they also didn’t want them picking up the multi-cultural urban dialect which replaced old fashioned Cockney like speaking.
    So you find that they speak more like traditional Londoners out in Kent and Essex, than people do in east and south London quite often.
    They say that they want ”their boy” to talk like them and like their grandfather did, and don’t like the new fusion accents that young people speak with.

    All a bit sad of course – but to be expected by some people. (Moving out I mean). But maybe for the best, as it saves a lot of trouble.
    Where I live, communities that have difficulties between them, also live apart and have walls dividing them. It’s the best thing in some ways, as otherwise there can be all sorts of gang problems with youths from different backgrounds fighting with each other.

    Here is just one example of what can happen when even opening up a new cyclepath between a protestant and a catholic community in Belfast.
    http://www.newtownabbeytoday.co.uk/news/Calls-for-Whiteabbey-interface-to.6419827.jp

    If the swaggering white Millwall type blokes had never moved out of inner London, that sort of thing could have happened there more often too.

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