A new public-opinion survey by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) reveals that anti-immigrant sentiment stems largely from misinformation, not entrenched animus. The most important finding of the GMF’s Transatlantic Trends survey is that concern about immigrants falls sharply when people are given even the most basic facts. For example, when asked if there are too many immigrants in their country, 38% of the Americans surveyed agreed. But when respondents were told how many foreigners actually reside in the US before being asked that question, their views changed significantly: just 21% replied that there were too many. The same was true in country after country. In the United Kingdom, 54% of respondents said that there were too many immigrants; that number fell to 31% among those who were given the facts about foreigners. In Greece, 58% became 27%; Italy went from 44% to 22%; and so on.
The Transatlantic Trends survey also shows that the American public is not worried about legal migration, while around two-thirds believe that the children of immigrants are being well integrated into their communities. These findings should embolden policymakers to be more proactive in designing pathways for legal migration and policies to integrate migrants.
Even when it comes to illegal immigrants, though US citizens express concern, they are more reasonable than their political leaders about how to solve the problem. A plurality of Americans surveyed by the GMF, for example, said that illegal immigrants should be allowed to obtain legal status.Unfortunately, it turns out the politicians like Rick Perry and Ted Cruz of Texas deliberately distort facts in order to rile up "the base." The media often echoes misinformation, even if unintentionally, and so the facts are left in the dust bin. Sutherland concludes with the seemingly obvious, yet frequently ignored point that informed public debate is what a good democracy is all about. However, I'm not always sure that people in politics are necessarily interested in an informed public debate and that is where we get into trouble.