Public Opinion toward New Migrants: A Comparative

Date01 October 1983
Published date01 October 1983
Public Opinion toward
Among the numerous challenges confronting the industrial democracies, few appear as
intractable as those associated with the increasing presence of 'new' minorities. Charac-
teristically, new minorities in Western Europe and the United States are migrants, usually
from the third world, who are seeking greater economic and political opportunities.
Although they frequently have been welcomed and occasionally recruited as valuable
additions to the unskilled labor force
(Miller, 1981
979),these racially and ethnically distinct migrants rarely have been assimilated
accepted by the societies in which they have settled. As their numbers have continued to
grow governments in receiving nations have been caught between their democratic ideo-
logies and past policy commitments on the one hand and increasing public resistance, if
not overt hostility toward the migrants on the other
1982, Krenzaler,
Such are the emotions surrounding this controversy that in the opinion of more
than one scholar, the question of the assimilation, continued segregation,
expulsion of ethnic minorities may present the most critical tests of democratic norms
ever experienced by these societies
(Miller, 198
Rist, 1978).
In part, the problems of postwar migration have developed because immigration pol-
icies which appeared reasonable at the time of their adoption seem considerably less
the light ofchanging economic and social conditions. In Britain, Germany, and the United
States, for example, policies facilitating migration have prevailed throughout most of the
postwar period. They were generally adopted in times of rapid economic growth when
industrial nations faced serious labor shortages and when foreign labor was abundant,
cheap, and largely docile
Drew, 1973).
Given the relatively small size of new
minorities at the outset and the absence ofany direct threat to the economic self-interest of
substantial segments of the host populations, it is not surprising that public opinion was
largely unconcerned with immigrant minorities throughout the
and early
(Studlar, 1978;Cornelius. 1982).
however, the relative ignorance
and indifference of the public toward immigrants and immigration policy gave way
suspicion and hostility. Several explanations for this shift have been offered. The most
common argues that the general economic slowdown which affected Britain in the middle
and the United States and Germany a decade later both undercut public confidence
in the inevitability of economic growth and created serious concerns about the ability of
industrial nations to absorb additional foreign labor. Labor shortages which were rife
following the war began to disappear as the tide of foreign labor continued unabated, the
first postwar generations began to enter the labor market, and significant numbers of
economic migrants began choosing to establish permanent residence rather than return to
their homelands
(Rist, 1978; Miller, 198
Spurred by increasing public unease over the economic competition posed by foreign
labor, host governments began enacting restrictive immigration and work laws. These
efforts were substantially frustrated, however, because as legal immigration was curtailed
the number of illegal immigrants increased
aided in many instances by employers willing
to hire them without employment documents
and because restrictions imposed on the
entry of new immigrants were more than offset by the growth ofresident alien populations
(Freeman, 1979; MacRae, 1980). More families joined workers who had decided
en their stays, and higher birth rates among immigrants negated the losses caused by those
who left for economic or social reasons. The result, according to Jonathan Power, was that,
"Europe and the United States reached
stage where the sheer dynamics of immigration
became self-sustaining. In short, migration begets migration" (Power, 1979
Traditionally, as we have suggested, public policy toward postwar immigrants has been
fashioned by governments acting on broad economic, colonial, and humanitarian con-
cerns in an environment of public indifference and permissiveness. Since 1970, however,
and somewhat earlier in Britain, immigration policies have been constrained by increas-
ingly salient and fundamentally hostile public attitudes toward migrants and their per-
ceived threat to economic opportunity and social order. Even more than radical or fringe
political groups, new migrants appear to have incited intolerant orientations in host
societies. Despite the suddenness with which the climate of opinion toward migrant labor
has changed and the increasing prospects for social disorder which have resulted, how-
ever, remarkably little research has explored the nature and dynamics ofpublic opinion on
the issue. Extensive research is available on opinion toward older, racial minorities in the
United States (HenslerSears, and Speer, 1979; Stimson and Carmines, 1980;Schaef-
fer, 1974; Campbell, 1971), considerable attention has been paid to the question of toler-
ance toward political minorities(Stoufler, 19 Sullivan,, 1978
Prothro and Grigg,
1963), and some limited data are available on public attitudes toward immigrant minor-
ities in Germany and Britain (Hoskin, 1982; Studlar, 1978).Still, virtually no systematic
and comparative attention has been directed to the nature or determinants of public
prejudice toward new minorities across
broad cross-section of western industrial demo-
cracies, asking whether the problem is a general faced by all such societies or varies
considerably among nations. This analysis takes a first step in that direction.
This paper examines public opinion toward new migrants in three nations.
Britain, West
Germany, and the United States. Drawing upon public opinion surveys conducted in each
country at a high point of public concern with the issue, the paper undertakes to describe
and explain public orientations of hostility or receptivity to migrants. In particular, we
seek to determine the extent to which such attitudes are reflections of (1) traditional social
and political divisions within the three societies, (2) real economic hardship imposed by
new minorities, or
changing lines of political value cleavage in Western Europe and the
United States.
Although there have been obvious similarities in the ways that new migrant issues have
developed in the three nations examined here, there are sufficient differences to warrant a
brief overview before presenting comparative data on public attitudes. In Britain, for
example, immigration policy typically has been linked to colonial and commonwealth
concerns. Colonial subjects traditionally enjoyed the freedom to enter Britain by virtue of
their British passports until it became evident in the early 1960's that the right was being
exercised increasingly by "coloureds" from Asia and the West Indies
Since then the

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT