Immigration Politics and the Perception of Chaos
By Alex Nowrasteh Cato Institute 7/25/18
A compelling explanation for why the American immigration system is more restrictive than other developed countries is that voters here do not feel that they have control over the border. Pictures, videos, and the widespread perception that there is chaos on the border caused by illegal immigrants, despite facts to the contrary, have the effect of convincing American voters to be less liberal on the issue than they otherwise would be. A recent paper by political scientists Allison
Harell, Stuart Soroka, and Shanto Iyengar in the journal Political Psychology tests this “locus of control” argument by comparing immigration policies in Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom with perceptions of control over immigration and its impact on their society.
Harell et alia examine three perceived loci of control: individual, social, and an outgroup’s control over one’s own economic condition. Across the three countries, the more that a respondent perceives himself and his society as being in control, the more pro-immigration he is. When a respondent thinks that immigrants are responsible for his own personal economic or life outcomes then he is more hostile toward them because of his perceived lack of control. They sum up their findings as:
Those who feel in control (personally or as a society) are less hostile towards immigrants, while those who attribute negative outcomes to immigrants’ predispositions are also more hostile. Results also suggest that measures of control are related to, but distinct from, both partisanship and racial prejudice.
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