WP10 – Drivers of opinions and norms
This work package examines people’s perceptions of the effects of international migration on national welfare programs. Insofar as intra-EU mobility is a contentious but non-negotiable aspect of EU membership, reaching public consensus over its impacts on receiving countries remains a key political challenge across the EU. As the Brexit referendum results indicate, consequences can be severe when large portions of a member state’s population perceive intra-EU mobility as harmful to the economy or welfare state. According to the British Social Attitudes survey, public perceptions of intra-EU mobility in the years leading up to the Brexit vote had become decidedly negative. Only one in five Britons evaluated intra-EU labour mobility as beneficial to Britain and more than three in five expressed the view that citizens of other EU countries ought to wait a minimum of three years before claiming welfare benefits.
We will begin with a comprehensive comparison between public perceptions and reality concerning the impacts of EU mobility on state welfare programs, including the fiscal costs of providing benefits. Our investigation will also offer an in-depth analysis of the various factors that determine these perception-reality divergences (i.e. ‘misperception’ gaps). Taking a broad perspective, we compare individuals and countries across the whole of the EU and identify changes over time. Our program of research can be summarised into four principal themes:
- Identify gaps between perceptions and realities of a) intra-EU mobility and b) its impacts on welfare
- Compare differences in public perceptions of intra-EU mobility and non-EU immigration
- Assess the influence of political knowledge and ideological orientation on the ‘misperception’ gaps
- Assess the role of political actors, policy context, and media narratives on the ‘misperception’ gaps
We will identify how perception-reality divergences vary across countries, across demographic subgroups, and across individuals, depending on their political ideology, political knowledge, and media consumption. This allows us to ascertain which population groups and regions of the EU may be most susceptible to mobilisation by political actors.
Our methodological approach relies on quantitative empirical analyses using survey data from the European Social Survey (ESS). The ESS is a survey of individuals and households conducted in more than 33 countries in Europe and currently spanning seven rounds of data collection, between 2002 and 2014. It represents an official and established source of an extensive range of harmonised information on people’s characteristics, behaviours, attitudes, and socioeconomic outcomes. We will further integrate the survey data with other data sources, by collaborating with several other work packages within the REMINDER project. We will incorporate newly collected survey data, as well as national/regional indicators that measure differences in immigration, its estimated impacts, policies, and media narratives. This will enable a direct comparison between the measured ‘realities’ of mobility and welfare use/institutions to the perceptions of these impacts across and within each country. Secondarily, it provides the framework for an empirical examination into the drivers of the identified ‘misperception’ gaps. Finally, this team is tasked with standardising and validating these databases for public release.
Public opinion on the effects of immigration on welfare programs and its determinants have not received as much attention in prior research as have, for example, the impacts of immigration on the labour market and broader economy. This research will add to our understanding of the micro- and macro-level antecedents of EU mobility perceptions, and contribute to more realistic assessments of the potential for politicising EU mobility in conjunction with welfare across countries and over time.