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Migrationwatch poll tells little about support for immigration cap

One of the question asked was abstract, other two not directly related: MRN

7th December 2010: Less than a fortnight after Migrationwatch poll projected public support for government on immigration cap, the Migration Rights’ Network has questioned its findings.
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Its Policy Officer Ruth Grove-White has in fact asked: `does the latest Migrationwatch poll show that the public supports the government on immigration?’ She goes on to assert the poll has little to tell about public regard for the measures.

Claiming a closer look at the poll shows this `may be a leap too far`, Grove says: ` Migrationwatch has described its recent YouGov poll on public attitudes towards immigration as indicative of a resounding vote of confidence in the government’s measures announced last week to reduce the number of economic migrants allowed to come to the UK.

`This poll, which comprises three extremely broad questions relating to immigration, tells us little about support for the cap on economic immigration, and planned restrictions on students, family reunification and settlement in the UK.

`The three Migrationwatch poll questions were pitched at gaining a general picture of public opinion on levels of immigration to the UK. Only the first question bore any actual relation to policy measures, reading: the government has announced plans to limit the number of economic migrants from outside the EU who are entitled to work in Britain.
Do you support or oppose this policy?’

`81 per cent of the poll sample indicated that they ‘supported the policy’ – 55 per cent strongly – whilst 13 per cent opposed the policy.
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`But this question presumes that the respondent has any idea what the plans announced by the government were, not helped by the fact that the question does not specifically mention the immigration cap and is therefore an abstract question.

`Could this have been because the immigration cap itself was highly controversial, generating substantial opposition among the business community – and potentially generating a more mixed polling response?

`The next two questions focused on broader public response to levels of immigration to the UK. The public were asked what the ideal level for net immigration should be, with 70 per cent respondents thought that reducing net immigration down to 50,000 or less would be best for Britain; the remaining 30 per cent favoured a higher rate of net immigration or responded that they did not know.

`The final question sampled opinion on the recent survey by Professor David Coleman at Oxford University, who found that if immigration continues at roughly its present levels, then by around 2066 there will be fewer white Brits in the UK than those from other ethnic groups. 73 per cent expressed themselves unhappy with this outcome.

`The finding that many members of the public are unhappy with overall levels of immigration is significant but unsurprising; research into public opinion over the past few years continues to show relatively high concern about numbers of immigrants coming to the UK.

`But MigrationWatch’s attempt to extract a big message of support for new government policies from this survey is problematic. Public opinion polling commonly finds concern about the more abstract national picture on immigration to the UK – perhaps why the questions in this poll have been kept to the most general level.

`But when the details of policy response are put under the spotlight, a more nuanced picture of public opinion is often revealed. Depending on the questions, research like the Migrationwatch poll carried out earlier this year on regularisation of undocumented migrants, can reveal a more mixed picture in public attitudes towards policy measures considered pragmatic or fair. Similarly, a much more diverse picture of public opinion often springs up in relation to local level impacts of immigration.

`The MigrationWatch research also inadvertently tells another story – about the variation among responses to immigration across the UK. Opposition to immigration emerges in the poll as an area of much greater concern in London and the South, in contrast to more ambivalent or supportive attitudes among many respondents in Scotland.

`This is likely to be both a reflection of actual levels of immigration (the capital and SouthEast receive the bulk of the UK’s immigrants), and of political narrative. The Scottish government about immigration, where active efforts are being made to increase immigration, has developed a much more positive message about immigration than that of the national government in Westminster which has as an explicit aim the reduction of immigration levels.

`So, this poll has little to tell us about public regard for government policy measures themselves as claimed by the research authors, but they do point to an interesting picture of varied attitudes towards immigration across the UK – which we would do well to consider further….’

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