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Understanding public attitudes towards refugees and migrants

This Working Paper produced by Chatham House and the Overseas Development Institute is intended as a primer on the drivers influencing public attitudes towards refugees and migrants, and what they mean for organisations working on refugee and migration issues. Drawing on more than 160 studies, this paper canvasses the large literature base that covers this issue (from opinion polling data to academic articles and communications campaigns) to draw out commonalities and highlight potential entry points.

Four key conclusions

  • Public attitudes towards refugees and migrants are complex. Attempts to engage with them are unlikely to succeed without understanding and engaging with the real world concerns, emotions and values around which attitudes are formed.
  • Understanding and engaging with public attitudes works best when clearly rooted in national and local contexts, and the nuances of public attitudes within them.
  • Traditional approaches to public engagement, such as ‘myth-busting’, may have exacerbated negativity and are unlikely to resonate beyond those who are already supportive. More successful strategies might highlight the manageability of the situation, while emphasising shared values.
  • Emotive and value-driven arguments may be more persuasive than facts and evidence. While evidence remains important in influencing policy debates, it is important to acknowledge its limitations as a persuasive tool.

Source: Overseas Development Institute