EU Science Hub

What drives negative attitudes towards migration and the EU?

People with positive perceptions on immigration tend to have a higher level of trust in the EU.
People with positive perceptions on immigration tend to have a higher level of trust in the EU.
Feb 04 2020

Low income, low level of education, low population density and old age are better predictors of people voting for parties favouring restrictive measures on migration than the share of migrants actually residing in their area, according to a new JRC report on immigration and trust in the EU.

A new JRC study examines the links between discontent towards the EU and negative attitudes towards immigration.

The findings offer useful insights to improve our understanding of the complex interplay between perceived and/or actual socio-economic realities, demographic change and migration.

The researchers analysed long time series of Eurobarometer surveys providing information on trust in the EU and attitudes towards migration.

They correlated information on voting patterns based on European Parliament election results with data on locations of migrants.

People with negative attitudes towards immigrants tend to have less trust in the EU

The analysis find a clear association between attitudes towards immigration and trust in the EU in all 27 EU countries and the UK (the data was collected before the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union). 

People with positive perceptions on immigration tend to have a higher level of trust in the EU.

In all countries analysed, individuals who have negative attitudes towards immigrants from outside the EU tend not to trust the EU.

The analysis also found that individuals who are better educated, as well as students and young people, and people who are in employment are more likely to trust the EU.

Share of votes for eurosceptic parties (left) and share of votes for parties in favour of restrictive measures on migration (right). Data collected before the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

Socio-economic factors determine voting preferences more than presence of immigrants

The study re-evaluated the importance of the presence of migrants as a major source of discontent among citizens.

It confirms that the areas with high shares of votes for parties favouring restrictive measures on migration are associated with economic and sociodemographic factors such as ageing population, low education, and low income, rather than the presence of migrants.

In most countries, people living in low population density areas are more inclined to vote for parties favouring restrictive measures on migration.

Case studies on Italy and the Netherlands

The researchers used two case studies to further evaluate the effect of the presence of migrants on voting at more detailed geographical scales.

One is based on the data at municipality level from the European Parliament elections in Italy in 2019, and one on the data at neighbourhood level from the general elections in the Netherlands in 2010.

In both cases, there is a clear divide in the voting patterns between urban and low-density areas.

In Italy, low population density and low income, more than the presence of migrants, explain the votes for parties with restrictive views on migration.

Data from the 2010 general elections in the Netherlands confirms that economic and sociodemographic factors such as the age structure of the residing population, low education and low income explain the support for the local anti-immigration party more than the high presence of migrants.