The enlargement of the European Union (EU) and the subsequent global economic recession has drawn attention to individual-level attitudes towards immigrants across Europe. In this context, using the European Social Survey (ESS), we compared Irish attitudes towards immigrants with those in 12 other European countries at 3 critical moments in time – prior to large immigration flows in 2002; at the height of the economic boom in 2006; and after the global financial crash in 2008. Our descriptive analysis examines whether significant changes in attitudes towards immigrants has occurred in the EU as a whole and within individual countries over time. We predicted that fluctuations in economic condition such as the rise in unemployment would affect attitudes towards immigrants. This relationship receives some support from our findings. In Ireland, positive attitudes to immigrants between 2006 and 2010 decreased and negative attitudes increased, on all attitudinal measures, more sharply than in any of the other European countries. Taking the 12 countries as a whole, attitudes have tended to polarise particularly with regard to allowing access to immigrants and their impact on the economy. This research reveals worrying trends in attitudes to immigrants in European countries, particularly in light of the importance of immigrants to the European labour market, both currently and in the future.
Source: European Societies, first published online 29 April 2015.