This latest post examines attitudes in Britain towards immigrants, looking at differences in view by religious affiliation. Scholars in the United States have recently found significant differences in attitudes towards immigration by religious affiliation. Eric McDaniel at the University of Texas and his co-authors, Irfan Nooruddin and Allyson Shortle, published a study, ‘Divine Boundaries: How Religion Shapes Citizens’ Attitudes Toward Immigrants’ in American Politics Research in January this year which used ‘two nationally representative surveys of American citizens to understand better the connections between people’s religious experiences and beliefs and their attitudes toward immigrants’ (p. 226).
Specifically, their analysis was based on data from the 2006 Pew Immigration Attitudes Survey and the 2008 Cooperative Congressional Election Survey. Among their key findings was that Evangelical Protestants held more negative views towards immigrants than mainline Protestants or Catholics (pp. 226-7).
In order to examine whether similar relationships hold between religion and opinion towards immigrants in Britain, here I use data from the nationally-representative British Social Attitudes survey, made available for general usage in early 2011. A set of questions on attitudes towards non-western immigrants was administered on Version A of the BSA survey (split into three versions: A, B, C) in the main face-to-face interview. This post looks at responses to selected questions by religious affiliation (other questions on immigrants were included in a self-completion questionnaire given to Version A respondents – not analysed here).
More information on the BSA 2009 survey can be found here:
The categories of religious affiliation used are:
• Other Christian (belonging to another denomination or unaffiliated)
• Other religion
• No religion
The data have been weighted to make them demographically representative. In all tables the percentages sum down the column for each category of religious affiliation. The final row in each table provides the proportions who offered a ‘don’t know’ response or did not answer. Question wording is provided under the relevant table.
First, Table 1 shows responses for a question concerning the amount Britain spend on improving the living conditions of immigrants. Anglicans are most likely to say that Britain spends ‘too much’ and least likely to say it spends ‘too little’. Catholics and those belonging to other religions are more likely to opt for ‘too’ little’, while around a quarter of the latter group respond ‘too much’. Interestingly, across Tables 1-5, this is also the question that elicits the highest level of ‘don’t know’ responses or refusals to answer (though they remain below 10 per cent across all categories).
Next, Table 2 presents responses to a question frequently asked in academic surveys and opinion polls – whether the level of immigration (here, immigrants from non-western countries) should be increased or decreased. Anglicans are most likely to say that it should be ‘decreased a lot’. Members of other religions are least likely to offer this response. Again, Catholics and those belonging to other religions are most likely to respond that immigration should be either ‘increased a lot’ or increased a little’.
Table 3 shows responses to a question about the contribution made by non-western immigrants who have settled in Britain. Response options range from ‘a very important contribution’ through to ‘little positive contribution’. Similar levels of Catholics and those belonging to other religions (around a fifth) say that throughout British history non-western immigrants have a made a ‘very important contribution’. At the other end of the response options, however, similar proportions of Anglicans, Catholics and those of no religion say such immigrants have made ‘little positive contribution’ (about a fifth in each case).
Table 4 shows the results for a question asking about how much conflict there is between people born in Britain and immigrants from non-western countries. Members of other religions are slightly more likely to say there are ‘very strong conflicts’ compared to those in the other religious affiliation categories, with Catholics least likely to offer this response. In each category, nearly all respondents perceive some degree of social conflict, with extremely small proportions – less than 3 per cent – responding that ‘there are no conflicts’.
Next, Table 5 shows responses to three questions which focus on the possible negative and positive consequences of more immigrants coming to Britain. Respondents are asked whether this would likely result in: higher crime rates; the country being more open to new ideas and cultures; and people born in Britain losing their jobs. To ease presentation of the results, responses have been combined for the ‘very likely’ and ‘somewhat likely’ categories, as well as for the ‘not too likely’ and ‘not likely at all’ options.
Anglicans are most likely to say that more immigrants coming to Britain would lead to higher crime rates and to people born in Britain becoming unemployed. Anglicans are also less likely to perceive that a consequence of more immigrants coming would be to make the country more receptive to new ideas and cultures. Members of other religions are most likely to say that Britain would become more open to new ideas and cultures. Catholics are most likely to say that higher crime rates and people losing their jobs are either ‘not too likely’ or ‘not likely at all’.
Previous BRIN posts have looked at other surveys which contain data relevant to public opinion towards immigration in Britain – see Clive Field’s post, ‘Transatlantic Trends Immigration Report’ published in February 2011.
McDaniel, E. L., Nooruddin, I. and Shortle, A. F. (2011), ‘Divine Boundaries: How Religion Shapes Citizens’ Attitudes Toward Immigrants’, American Politics Research, 39(1): 205-233.
McLaren, L. and Johnson, M. (2004), ‘Understanding the rising tide of anti-immigrant sentiment’, in Park, A. et al. (eds.), British Social Attitudes: the 21st report. London: Sage.
Park, A., Curtice, J., Clery, E and Bryson, C. (eds.) (2010), British Social Attitudes: the 27th Report. London: Sage.
Dr Ben Clements
Department of Politics and International Relations, University of Leicester