THE ANTI-IMMIGRANT LOBBY claims overwhelming popular support for its demands for fierce restrictions on certain kinds of foreigners (ones from “low-GDP countries”, as the UKBA puts it). Setting aside the assumption that it is ever OK to oppress people “by popular demand”, it appears even that assumption is wildly wide of the mark.
The YouGov poll commissioned by Lush for No One Is Illegal (NOII), and carried out on 19th May 2011 asked 2,056 people whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement (which you can support here):
“People should be free to live and work wherever they wish, and enjoy all the same rights as all other residents.”
• 54 percent of them either agreed (35 percent) or “strongly agreed” (19 percent)
• 31 percent either didn’t know (8 percent) or “neither agreed nor disagreed” (23 percent)
• Only 16 percent disagreed (12 percent) or “strongly disagreed” (4 percent)
The sample was then split in two: half were asked more specific questions about whether their own travels should be subject to various restrictions; the other half were asked whether the same restrictions should apply to foreigners visiting Britain. This revealed a definite (but not massive) bias against foreigners – but more than that, how important “framing” is.
The first of the sub-questions asked Group A whether “you” should be free to live and work in a foreign country, and Group B whether foreigners should be free to live and work in Britain. Both groups replied in favour – although Group A’s majority (72 percent) was much bigger than Group B’s (46 percent).
i.e. a majority in both cases for freedom of movement for all, wherever they come from.
Framing the question in terms of “control” gets a more hardline response, but not a particularly xenophobic one.
The answers seemed to take on a more “tabloid” quality when the questions were framed in terms of control.The last four asked whether there should be restrictions:
• on whether you/foreigners can visit other countries/Britain (52 and 73 percent “yes”)
• on how long you/visitors can stay in another country/in Britain (71 and 86 percent “yes”)
• that take your/their skill or qualifications into account (79 and 88 percent “yes”)
• that take our/their income or wealth into account (54 and 54 percent “yes”)
But although the numbers look “reactionary”, the bias against foreigners is small (non-existent in the last case) compared to the really strong, positive response in favour of control per se; it seems to be an attractive idea, whoever is on the receiving end. How does this work?
It reminds me of situations in computer-interface design where users are asked if they would like a way of controlling x. A normal human being nearly always answers “yes”. If the designer takes that “yes” at face-value, the interface ends up cluttered with controls that confuse the issue but are never used. (That’s also how the insurance industry works!) Better results are achieved when the users are helped to articulate their overall aims. They are then able to prioritize their requirements, and arrive at the deeper logic beneath apparent inconsistencies.
The anti-immigrant debate has been dominated by those who frame it in terms of control, for example the claim that “mass-immigration” is a “social experiment” inflicted on the people of this country, without their consent.
But as Nigel Trollsworth pointed out in his comment on Rahila Gupta’s Comment is Free piece (“Lush’s campaign is a welcome antidote to immigration hysteria”May 26th), the real social experiment is the massive and disastrous one being conducted by UKBA, Frontex et al, built on extremely shaky hypotheses about social cohesion and welfare, and causing monumental suffering and damage – and without much in the way of a democratic mandate or control, either.