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Do Anti-immigration Voters Care More? Documenting the Issue Importance Asymmetry of Immigration Attitudes

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Why do politicians and policymakers not prioritize pro-immigration reforms even when public opinion on the issue is positive? This research note examines one previously overlooked explanation related to the systematically greater importance of immigration as a political issue among those who oppose it relative to those who support it. To provide a comprehensive empirical assessment of how personal immigration issue importance is related to policy preferences, I use the best available cross-national and longitudinal surveys from multiple immigrant-receiving contexts. I find that-compared to pro-immigration voters-anti-immigration voters feel stronger about the issue and are more likely to consider it as both personally and nationally important. This finding holds across virtually all observed countries, years, and alternative survey measures of immigration preferences and their importance. Overall, these results suggest that public attitudes toward immigration exhibit a substantial issue importance asymmetry that systematically advantages anti-immigration causes when the issue is more contextually salient.
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Do Anti-immigration Voters Care More? Documenting the Issue
Importance Asymmetry of Immigration Attitudes
Alexander Kustov
Draft: February 21, 2022
Abstract
Why do politicians and policymakers not prioritize pro-immigration reforms even when
public opinion on the issue is positive? This research note examines one previously
overlooked explanation related to the systematically greater importance of immigra-
tion as a political issue among those who oppose it relative to those who support it.
To provide a comprehensive empirical assessment of how personal immigration issue
importance is related to policy preferences, I use the best available cross-national and
longitudinal surveys from multiple immigrant-receiving contexts. I find that–compared
to pro-immigration voters–anti-immigration voters feel stronger about the issue and
much more likely to consider it as both personally and nationally important. This
finding holds across virtually all observed countries, years, and alternative survey mea-
sures of immigration preferences and their importance. Overall, these results suggest
that public attitudes toward immigration exhibit a substantial issue importance asym-
metry that systematically advantages anti-immigration causes when the issue is more
contextually salient.
Keywords: Immigration Policy, Public Opinion, Issue Salience, Issue Preferences
University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Department of Political Science and Public Administration,
akustov@uncc.edu.
Introduction
In the summer of 2020 Gallup reported that, for the first time since the organization started
their polling on the issue in 1965, more Americans said they would prefer to see immigration
increased rather than decreased (34% vs 28%).1Many news outlets have subsequently re-
ported this finding which seemed to be especially hopeful in the midst of the global COVID-
19 pandemic with foreign origin. Although these news reports were generally optimistic,
many commentators also wondered why these positive public attitudes have not translated
to increased pressure on the US government to enact a comprehensive immigration reform.
Indeed, why do politicians and policymakers rarely prioritize pro-immigration appeals and
policies even in the contexts where public opinion on the issue is seemingly positive?2
This research note empirically assesses one possible behavioral explanation of this puz-
zle related to the systematically greater perception of immigration as an important issue
among those voters who oppose it (relative to those who support it). Although both anti-
immigration and pro-immigration advocates can be extremely motivated by their cause, it
is striking that, while there have been many prominent single-issue political parties and
politicians with an anti-immigrant platform across the world, there have been none with a
predominantly pro-immigration platform. But despite the fact that any account of immigra-
tion politics must make an assumption about whether immigration preferences are equally
important to all voters, there has been so far no empirical evidence on this question.
To remedy this omission, I provide the first comprehensive empirical assessment of the
relationship between personal issue importance (PII) of immigration to voters and their
preferences on the issue across various immigrant-receiving contexts.3
1Younis, Mohamed. “Americans Want More, Not Less, Immigration for First Time.” Gallup, July 1 (2020).
Available at https://news.gallup.com/poll/313106/americans-not-less-immigration-first-time.aspx.
2Of course, public opinion is only one possible source of policy change (e.g., Ford et al., 2015).
3I use the term personal issue importance as opposed to the related term issue salience throughout the text
due to the greater ambiguity of the latter. While these terms are often used interchangeably at the individual
level, some scholars rightly differentiate between them by defining salience as a broader function of (relatively
stable) personal issue importance and (relatively volatile) political contexts which may or may not frame a
certain issue as a political problem at the moment (see Miller et al., 2017; Moniz and Wlezien, 2021). To
avoid confusion, I thus use the term contextual issue salience to denote an objective relative importance of
1
First, I use multiple cross-sectional samples of the American National Election Studies
(ANES) and the British Election Study (BES) for the baseline test of a potential positive
correlation between anti-immigration preferences and the perception of immigration as the
most important national problem or issue. After establishing the expected issue importance
asymmetry in the major US and UK election surveys, I utilize the Transatlantic Trends
Survey (TTS) and show that this asymmetry similarly extends to all other major immigrant-
receiving countries. I then use the additional BES, Voter Study Group (VSG), Institute for
the Study of Citizens and Politics (ISCAP) and Eurobarometer data to establish that this
asymmetry holds regardless of the particular survey instrument. Finally, I compare the
relationship between PII and preferences in immigration to that of other political issues and
political interest in general using the Cooperative Election Study (CCES), indicating that
the revealed asymmetry is rather unique to immigration. In sum, I find that–compared
to those who support immigration–those who oppose immigration feel stronger about the
issue and much more likely to consider it as both personally and nationally important across
virtually all observed countries, years, and alternative survey measures.
Overall, these results suggest that pro-immigration preferences as observed in public
opinion surveys may often be not as strong as anti-immigration preferences in terms of
people’s behavioral or cognitive engagement with the issue and their willingness to vote based
on it. In other words, even when the public support of pro-immigration policies is seemingly
greater than or similar to that of anti-immigration policies in the raw poll numbers, it is likely
the case that the anti-immigration side is still more politically motivated and influential.
While the exact causes and consequences of this phenomenon are beyond the scope of this
research note, these results also imply that public attitudes toward immigration exhibit a
substantial issue importance asymmetry that systematically advantages anti-immigration
causes when the issue is more contextually salient in a particular country or time.
the issue as captured in the political discourse or media coverage of a particular country and time. In line
with the previous literature, I also define preferences as any rankings derived from comparative evaluations
of various policies; and use attitudes as an umbrella concept for personal preferences and issue importance.
2
Issue Importance Asymmetry of Immigration Attitudes
The literature on issue importance or salience is central to the understanding of any public
attitudes toward government policies and their role in politics more generally. When indi-
viduals are said to attach personal importance to a certain policy issue, they are concerned
or care about it as manifested by their cognitive and behavioral engagement with that issue.
This includes thinking frequently and deeply about it, gathering information about it, and
using the issue as a basis for making voting and other political decisions (Miller et al., 2017).
Given that any engagement is costly for individuals in terms of their time and other limited
resources, most scholars consider PII to be a relative (constant-sum) concept. Defined this
way, many political outcomes, including those related to immigration, are significantly de-
pendent on how much relative importance people attach to various issues (Dennison, 2019).
Unfortunately, until very recently, the literature on immigration attitudes has developed
separately from this discussion. As a result, scholars have not seriously considered the
theoretical implications and empirical reality concerning the interplay between immigration
policy preferences and PII in determining electoral and other political outcomes. They have
not identified when individuals are likely to develop their concerns about immigration issues
and whether these concerns persist (independent of preferences). This is disconcerting given
that any account of immigration politics that relates certain individual preferences or beliefs
to other outcomes must make an assumption about the underlying (variation in) PII. After
all, it is people for whom a particular policy issue is very important are likely to place great
weight on it when deciding how to vote or express their views otherwise, whether by donating
money to relevant organizations, volunteering, contacting public officials or even running for
office themselves (Miller et al., 2017; Moniz and Wlezien, 2021).
How does PII (or preferences across issues) form and how is it different from the formation
of comparative evaluations or policy preferences within issues? While the exploration of
how individuals decide what issues to care about is still in its nascent stage, the literature
usually single out three major systematic individual-level sources related to material self-
3
interest, group identity, and psychological predispositions (Miller et al., 2017). Notably,
all of these factors are also used to explain policy preferences within issues. Consequently,
although relative PII and preferences are both conceptually distinct components of individual
attitudes, there may be more or less empirically related depending on the particular issue
and political context (e.g., see Jennings and Wlezien, 2015).
More recently, some scholars have tried to bring PII (and salience) to the center of the im-
migration politics research. Hatton (2021), for instance, extensively shows that immigration
issue importance is a meaningful construct which has distinct correlates from preferences at
both individual and country levels. At the same time, Dennison and Geddes (2019) show
that, at least at the aggregate level, political preferences are highly stable, while PII is fairly
stable and national issue importance is fairly volatile. Kustov et al. (2021) further con-
firm these patterns in the individual-level panel data, showing that many of the prominent
exogenous shocks that have been often thought to impact immigration preferences in the
electorate (such as economic and refugee crises) are more likely to be changing the PII of
immigration to individuals. In line with these results, Dennison (2020) also shows that it is
the increases in immigration issue importance (rather than preferences) that are positively
related to populist voting at both aggregate and individual levels.
Due to the lack of the relevant data, however, the relationship between immigration
PII and preferences has not been systematically explored yet. To that end, this short paper
aims to identify the best available surveys and provide a comprehensive empirical assessment
of this relationship across countries, years, and various PII measurements. Although the
study does not stipulate a formal theoretically-informed hypothesis, given the relative failure
of immigration advocates to enact significant pro-immigration reforms even in seemingly
immigration-friendly electoral contexts, a reasonable prior expectation is that those who are
generally opposed to immigration should be more likely to consider it an important issue than
those who are generally supportive of immigration.
4
Data, Measurement, and Methods
Since an unambiguously effective survey measure of PII still remains elusive (Jennings and
Wlezien, 2011; Moniz and Wlezien, 2021)4, my goal was to identify all publicly available
(quasi-)representative survey datasets with the greatest diversity of relevant self-reported
measures on immigration preferences and PII. To minimize measurement error, in selecting
the data I gave a particular priority to higher-quality surveys with more valid items, larger
or more numerous samples, and longitudinal as opposed to just cross-sectional designs. I also
prioritized surveys with the items that specifically highlight personal issue importance (as
opposed to just perceptions of “most important national problem”) and clearly defined im-
migration policy preferences (as opposed to just general feeling or beliefs about immigration
and immigrants). Since, in order to examine the relationship between PII and preferences,
I need to have some relevant variation in both attitude dimensions and sufficient statisti-
cal power, I only considered democratic survey contexts with at least 40 individuals (i.e.,
normally 4% of the sample) reporting that they consider immigration an important issue.
The overall data/measurement summary is given in Table A1. For the ease of interpreta-
tion, in the main text I mostly highlight the results based on the binary transformations of
survey items–share of respondents who consider immigration an important issue among those
who want to decrease/restrict and increase/ease immigration. All variables were standard-
ized from 0 to 1 (so that 1 indicates either important or anti-immigration issue preferences).5
4The most common survey instrument to measure personal PII is the so-called “most important problem”
(MIP) or the nearly identical “most important issue” (MII) question that asks respondents to self-report one
or few important political issues they think their country is facing at the moment (usually in an open-ended
form). These measures have received substantial criticism due to the common conflation of the importance of
a certain issue with the degree to which it is currently a (negative) “problem” or an “issue” by respondents
(Wlezien, 2005). Moreover, national MII and MIP items have also been shown to be better at revealing
respondents’ guesses about what other people think is important in their country rather than measuring PII
(Jennings and Wlezien, 2011). Still, however imperfect, these items can be used to measure voters’ issue
attentiveness and their priorities for government action relative to all other issues (Jennings and Wlezien,
2015). A major alternative survey instrument to measure PII is a direct question that asks respondents
to self-report whether, and to what extent, a certain policy issue is important to them personally. While
this addresses the main limitation of MII/MIP items, it is less suited to measure relative importance since
respondents can report that all issues are equally and highly important to them (Moniz and Wlezien, 2021).
5For a more complete assessment based on the indices comprised of multiple variables, and including those
who are neutral regarding immigration (a closed interval of 0.25-0.75), with no change in substantive results,
see Appendix. The results are also robust to the inclusion of basic control variables, including general
political interest, age, gender, education, urban residence, immigration status, and ideology (not shown).
5
Analysis and Results
I start my baseline analysis with an examination of ANES which arguably provides the best
quality survey data with consistent items on both immigration policy preferences (measured
as preferred immigration levels) and issue importance (measured as somewhat imperfect
national MIP). As can be seen from Figure 1, anti-immigration US voters are generally more
likely to think of it as important and this pattern is especially apparent during the times of
high contextual salience of immigration in the country. In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s
win in 2016, for instance, those who wanted to decrease immigration were much more likely to
consider it the most important problem facing their country (27% vs 16%). At the same time,
in 2012 when immigration was less salient nationally, the same asymmetry was 4% vs 2%
(the difference was similar but not statistically significant in 2008). When one considers the
subsequent post-election ANES survey in 2020–shortly after Gallup for the first time declared
the net positivity of public attitudes–the comparable numbers were 17% vs 12%. In other
words, despite the fact that more people now say they have pro-immigration preferences,
they are relatively less engaged than those who have anti-immigration preferences.
Another way to look at it is to count the percentage of ANES respondents who sup-
port or oppose immigration only among those who also consider it the most important na-
tional issue, which arguably provides a better metric of the potential pro-immigration or
anti-immigration pressure groups in the US public opinion. This way, even in 2020 United
States–one of the most pro-immigration preference contexts recorded in polling history–there
were possibly fewer engaged pro-immigration than anti-immigration voters (34%*12%4%
vs 28%*17%5% of all respondents). For comparison, during the time of high contextual
salience of immigration in 2016, the numbers were approximately 2% vs 12% of all respon-
dents indicating a very large public opinion skew in favor of the anti-immigration cause.
Importantly, however, these stark differences are not just about the 2016 election of
Donald Trump. The contextual salience of immigration may come and go (and it may be hard
to detect the asymmetry when only a few people mention immigration as an important issue).
6
Nonetheless, the relative asymmetry in the explicitly personal self-reported issue importance
of immigration appears to have been stable throughout the last decade as captured using
alternative measures in the US VSG or ISCAP data (see Figures A1 and A4).
I then move to the analysis of BES which consistently measures issue importance (as MII)
and various immigration preferences (though as different items depending on a particular
survey). Unlike the relatively immigration-friendly US context, the UK has exhibited the
much higher degrees of negativity towards immigration and perhaps its highest contextual
salience of any other country over the last two decades. For instance, in March 2015 or
approximately one year before the Brexit Referendum, 73% of the British public wanted
to decrease immigration while only 6% wanted to increase it. Meanwhile, the staggering
26% thought it was the single most important issue facing their country (in July 2015 this
number rose to 35%). The question, however, is whether issue preferences and importance
are empirically related to each other. As can be seen from Figure 2, they indeed very much
are–those who oppose immigration are consistently much more likely to consider important
than those who support it and these differences are even higher than in the US (from 27%
vs 7% in 2005 to 48% vs 6% in 2015 and then back to 23% vs. 2% in 2017).
Given that the UK and especially the US are among the biggest and oldest immigrant
destinations, it may also be important to consider some of the newer immigrant-receiving
contexts. To that end, I use the cross-national TTS data from 2014 (also see the additional
analysis of the Eurobarometer data from 2019 in Figure 4a below). According to Figure 3,
the previously uncovered asymmetry is further evident in every other immigrant-receiving
country in the dataset from France and Germany to Denmark and Sweden. The only possible
exceptions are Hungary and Romania–the countries with very low immigration (at least
until very recently)–where the differences in issue salience between pro-immigration and
anti-immigration voters are not statistically significant.
7
Figure 1: Issue Importance of Immigration by Preferences Across Time (US, ANES)
0.0
0.1
0.2
0.3
2008
2012
2016
2020
Issue Importance
Issue Preference Anti−immigration Pro−immigration
Based on the ANES data. The bars represent 95% CI. For variable descriptions, see Table A1.
Figure 2: Issue Importance of Immigration by Preferences Across Time (UK, BES)
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
2005
2010
2015
2015 ALT
2015p
2017p
Issue Importance
Issue Preference Anti−immigration Neutral Pro−immigration
Based on the BES data. The bars represent 95% CI. ALT stands for an alternative operationalization of
personal issue importance; p stands for Internet Panel survey. For variable descriptions, see Table A1.
Figure 3: Issue Importance of Immigration by Preferences Across Countries (2014, TTS)
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
Average
France
Germany
Italy
Sweden
United Kingdom
United States
Issue Importance
Issue Preference Anti−immigration Pro−immigration
Based on the TTS data. The bars represent 95% CI. For variable descriptions, see Table A1.
8
Robustness to Alternative Measurements and Political Interest
In line with the prominent critique by Wlezien (2005), however, one may reasonably wonder
whether this result is merely an artifact of the particular MII/MIP question. If these survey
items indeed conflate importance and ‘problemness’ of immigration in the minds of many
respondents, it is possible that the results above simply show that those who oppose immi-
gration are more likely to think of it as a (negative) ‘problem’ which is nearly tautological.
Luckily, in addition to such MII/MIP items, BES and a few other surveys also provide
alternative operationalizations of PII which arguably do not have this limitation, allowing
for the direct comparison of various survey measurements. The BES 2015, for instance, also
asked their respondents “how strongly do you feel about [immigration]” (see Figure 2). Quite
similarly, the US Voter Study Group (VSG) asked “how important are the following issues
[such as immigration] to you?” (see Figure A1). As can be seen from these graphs (comparing
BES 2015 and BES 2015 ALT and VSG 2011 and VSG 2011 ALT), the same asymmetry of
immigration attitudes is present regardless of the particular operationalization of PII. While
the baseline rate of PII is understandably much higher in these alternative multiple-choice
items (e.g., respondents could pick that all political issues are very important to them), those
who oppose immigration are still much more likely to report that the issue is important to
them and this basic finding holds across all samples in these datasets.6
As a compromise between these two imperfect operationalizations, Eurobarometer–one
the major cross-national surveys in the European Union–also asks about the most impor-
tant issues facing the country and the respondents personally. As Figure 4 shows, anti-
immigration voters are on average 2-3 times more likely to think of it as both more na-
tionally and personally important issue. Interestingly, perceived national concerns about
immigration are on average much more pronounced than self-reported personal concerns
6As for more quasi-behavioral measures, the US ISCAP survey (2018)–which specifically asks people to report
what issues are important to their vote–shows a similar asymmetric pattern (see Figure A4). At the same
time, my original quasi-representative UK sample (available upon request) indicates that anti-immigration
voters report a greater willingness to sign a petition to share their views with the Parliament (72% vs 63%).
9
across all countries.7Overall, regardless of the particular wording or operationalization,
anti-immigration voters are on average more likely to say that immigration is among the
most important issues.
One may also wonder whether this observed asymmetry is unique to immigration or
also present in other issues. While the detailed examination of this question is beyond this
note’s scope, the US Cooperative Election Study fruitfully asks their respondents about a
number of issues and their importance. According to Figure A2, while some asymmetry is
present in other issues, the particular details and the intensity of this asymmetry are unique
to immigration (i.e., the more conservative side that wants the government to preserve the
status quo and/or restrict a certain voluntary activity further). The more liberal supporters
of (the fewer government restrictions on) gay marriage or (the more government restrictions
on) guns, for instance, are slightly more likely to think of the respective issues as important
than their more conservative counterparts. Abortion is perhaps the most similar issue to
immigration in terms of the observed asymmetry, though the gap between “pro-life” and
“pro-choice” sides is much smaller than between anti-immigration and pro-immigration sides.
Furthermore, unlike abortion (and likely many other issues), immigration is distinct in terms
of “moderates” being more engaged than the pro-immigration side (also see Figure 2).
Finally, a related question is whether the revealed PII differences between anti- and pro-
immigration voters may stem from their more general differences in political interest. As
shown in Figure A3, this is not the case–those who are interested in politics are more or
less equally represented among both groups (as well as supporters and opponents of most
other issues for that matter). In other words, compared to pro-immigration voters, anti-
immigration voters care more about immigration in particular–not just politics in general.8
7This is in line with the idea that the national MII item is an imperfect function of PII combined with other
factors such as people’s perceptions about what others consider important in a political context (Moniz and
Wlezien, 2021). In particular, the individual-level correlation between the two Eurobarometer measures is
0.2-0.3 depending on a particular country such that the majorities of respondents who consider immigration
personally important also report that they believe it is nationally important (but not vice versa).
8Given that PII is relative concept, it must be the case those voters who happen to be pro-immigration care
more about other non-immigration issues (the specifics of which likely depends on a particular context).
10
Figure 4: Issue Importance of Immigration by Preferences and Countries (Eurobarometer)
(a)
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
Average
BE
DE
DK
ES
FI
HU
IT
NL
RO
SE
SI
UK
Issue Importance (National)
Issue Preference Anti−immigration Pro−immigration
(b)
0.0
0.2
0.4
Average
BE
DE
DK
ES
FI
HU
IT
NL
RO
SE
SI
UK
Issue Importance (Personal)
Based on the Eurobarometer 91.5 data (2019). The bars represent 95% CI. For variable descriptions, see
Table A1.
11
Discussion
Despite the fact that the US and some other major immigrant-receiving Western coun-
tries have now been experiencing the most pro-immigration public opinion recorded in their
history, lawmakers are still hesitant to enact significant pro-immigration reforms and politi-
cians do not seem to be eager to make strong pro-immigration appeals. The institutional
complications aside, this short paper documents an important yet largely overlooked behav-
ioral reason why the positive public opinion on immigration has not translated to political
changes–the fact that those who want less immigration generally care much more about the
issue than those who want more immigration. But while this has been a long time complaint
from pro-immigration activists that their anti-immigration counterparts are more numerous
and engaged, there has been so far no systematic empirical evidence on this question.
It is a reasonable expectation that perceptions of issue importance and particular policy
preferences held by an individual are both distinct and independent of each other. Indeed,
in theory voters can be personally passionate about any particular political issue, whether
it is conservative or liberal, whether it is something symbolic or material, or whether it is
meant to upheld or change the status quo. As this paper extensively documents, however,
in practice these two dimensions can be more or less overlapping with each other.
What are the implications of the documented issue importance asymmetry for immi-
gration politics and public opinion? First, when one takes personal issue importance into
account, the United States and other other immigrant-receiving countries have likely expe-
rienced no discernible relative increase of people who want more immigration for whom this
is an important issue. At the same time, given the rise of immigration contextual salience
over the last decades, the absolute number of engaged people who want to decrease immi-
gration may have actually increased. More generally, while there are many contexts where
pluralities oppose immigration and consider it their main political priority, there is no known
political context in which a plurality of voters wanted to increase immigration and thought
it was more important than other issues. Second, and related, if immigration preferences
12
and personal interests in the issue are rather stable, most political events that increase the
contextual salience of the issue should be statistically more likely to engage those who op-
pose than those who support immigration–even when the former is a shrinking segment of
the population. In turn, this helps explain why contextual salience of immigration has been
associated with populist and anti-immigration vote (Dennison and Geddes, 2019). In the
end, this note suggests that people’s disagreements about the importance of immigration as
a political issue may be as important as their disagreements about the merits of particular
policies in determining which groups and political coalitions eventually get their way.
This research note is not without the limitations. First, while the descriptive finding of
the asymmetry across high-income democracies in the 21st century is uncontroversial, future
research can explore the development of immigration attitudes and the causal mechanisms of
the relationship in more detail. For example, do voters come to be interested in immigration
first and then develop their preferences or vice versa? Relatedly, it is important to provide
further (quasi-)experimental evidence of whether the exogenous changes in contextual immi-
gration salience (e.g., due to unrelated political events of various valence) may have similar
asymmetric effects in making new voters personally care more or less about immigration.
Second, it is likely that the relationship between preferences and PII can vary depending
on political (and even partisan) contexts which has not been explored here. For instance, is
there something distinct about immigration that makes it inherently more of a ‘political issue’
among those who oppose it (e.g., due the role of widespread ethnocentric predispositions) or
is it just a function of the studied context (e.g., outside of frontier and other regions where
the major political challenge is in fact to attract more immigrants)?
Finally, future studies can also examine the qualitative underpinnings of the attitudinal
issue importance asymmetry, including its behavioral manifestations and the possible ‘sub-
issue’ differences in the priorities within the domain of immigration. For instance, it is
possible that, while pro-immigration actors are relatively more (behaviorally or cognitively)
concerned with helping existing immigrant stocks, anti-immigration groups and voters care
more about preventing future immigration flows (e.g., Margalit and Solodoch, 2021).
13
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14
Supplementary Materials (Online Appendix)
Tables and Figures
Figure A1: Personal Issue Importance of Immigration by Preferences in Longitudinal Data
(US, VSG)
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
2011
2011 ALT
2016 ALT
2017 ALT
2019 ALT
Issue Importance
Issue Preference Anti−immigration Neutral Pro−immigration
Based on the VSG data (2011-2019). The bars represent 95% CI. ALT stands for an alternative operational-
ization of personal issue importance. For variable descriptions, see Table A1.
i
Figure A2: Personal Issue Importance of Immigration by Preferences Compared to Other
Issues (CCES)
Based on the CCES data (2016). The bars represent 95% CI. For variable descriptions, see Table A1.
Figure A3: Political Interest by Preferences on Immigration and Other Issues (CCES)
Based on the CCES data (2016). The bars represent 95% CI. For variable descriptions, see Table A1.
Political interest indicates the share of respondents who say that they “follow what’s going on in government
and public affairs” most of the time.
ii
Figure A4: Personal Issue Importance of Immigration for Voting by Preferences (US, ISCAP)
0.0
0.2
0.4
0.6
2018
2018 ALT
Issue Importance
Issue Preference Anti−immigration Neutral Pro−immigration
Based on the ISCAP data (2018). The bars represent 95% CI. ALT stands for an alternative operational-
ization of personal issue importance of immigration for voting which includes the mention of “racism.”aFor
variable descriptions, see Table A1.
aSome pro-immigration voters may arguably frame their immigration concerns in terms of the prevalence of
racism (against immigrants) in the country. I would like to thank an anonymous reviewer for this suggestion.
iii
Table A1: Data Sources and Survey Items
Dataset Issue Importance Issue Preferences (and Beliefs)
American National
Election Study
(ANES):
–“What do you think are the most im-
portant problems facing this country?”
“Do you think the number of immigrants from foreign countries who
are permitted to come to the United States to live should be increased
a lot, increased a little, left the same as it is now, decreased a little,
or decreased a lot?”
N = 8,280
(US, 2012-2020)
British Election Study
(BES), post-election:
–“As far as you’re concerned, what is
the single most important issue facing
the country at the present time?”
“Do you think that too many immigrants have been let into this
country, or not?” (2015 only)
N = 5,315 –“How strongly do you feel about [im-
migration]? (ALT, 2015 only)
–“Do you think that immigration undermines or enriches Britain’s
cultural life?”
(UK, 2005-2015) –“Do you think immigration is good or bad for Britain’s economy?”
British Election Study
(BES), internet panel:
–“As far as you’re concerned, what is
the single most important issue facing
the country at the present time?”
“Do you think the number of immigrants from foreign countries who
are permitted to come to the United Kingdom to live should be in-
creased, decreased, or left the same as it is now?” (2015 only)
N = 47,363 “Some people think that the UK should allow *many more* immi-
grants to come to the UK to live and others think that the UK
should allow *many fewer* immigrants. Where would you place
yourself...on this scale?” (2017 only)
–“Do you think that immigration undermines or enriches Britain’s
cultural life?”
(UK, 2015-2017) –“Do you think immigration is good or bad for Britain’s economy?”
Transatlantic Trends
Survey (TTS):
–“What do you think is the most
important issue facing (OUR COUN-
TRY) at the moment?”
“Generally speaking, how do you feel about the number of people
living in [COUNTRY] who were not born in that country? Are there
too many, a lot but not too many, or not many?”
N = 13,510
(Cross-national, 2014)
Voter Study Group
(VSG):
–“Which of these is the most impor-
tant issue for you?” (2011 only)
“Do you think it should be easier or harder for foreigners to immi-
grate to the US legally than it is currently?”
N = 2,576 –“How important are the following is-
sues to you? Immigration” (ALT)
(US, 2011-2019)
Eurobarometer: –“What do you think are the two most
important issues facing (OUR COUN-
TRY) at the moment?”
–“Please tell me whether each of the following statements evokes a
positive or negative feeling for you. Immigration of people from other
EU Member States”
N = 32,524 –“And personally, what are the two
most important issues you are facing
at the moment?”
–“Please tell me whether each of the following statements evokes a
positive or negative feeling for you. Immigration of people from other
EU Member States”
(Cross-national, 2019) –“To what extent do you agree or disagree with each of the following
statements? Immigrants contribute a lot to (OUR COUNTRY)”
Cooperative Election
Study (CCES):
–“How important are each of these is-
sues to you? Immigration”
“What do you think the U.S. government should do about immigra-
tion? Select all that apply (8 binary items)”
N = 64,600
(US, 2016)
Institute for the Study
of Citizens and Politics
Panel (ISCAP):
–“Which of the following issues is
the most important to you in terms
of choosing which political candidates
you will support in the upcoming elec-
tion? Immigration”
“On immigration, some people argue that U.S. policy should focus
on returning illegal immigrants to their native countries. Other peo-
ple argue that U.S. policy should focus on creating a pathway to U.S.
citizenship for illegal immigrants. Still others are somewhere in be-
tween. Where would you place yourself on this scale (1-7), or haven’t
you thought much about this?”
N = 1,024 ... Immigration OR Racism (ALT) “Please indicate whether you favor or oppose each of the following
proposals addressing immigration: Increase border security by build-
ing a fence along part of the U.S. border with Mexico.”
(US, 2018)
iv
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