Immigration Attitudes and Positive Messaging: Evidence From the United States

Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2023, Vol. 51(2) 127138
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221078276
Immigration Attitudes and Positive
Messaging: Evidence From the United States
David H. Bearce
and Ken Stallman
This paper considers a messaging strategy to shift immigration preferences, arguing that if citizen attitudes in this issue-area build
from several dimensions, then a positive message related to each dimension should move attitudes in a more favorable direction.
It tests the f‌irst part using original survey data with directly comparable questions about whether immigration hurts/helps
American culture/the economy/national security, providing evidence that all three dimensions currently supp ort the pref-
erences of voting-age citizens. It tests the second part by randomly presenting another sample with different messages about
how labor immigration strengthens national security, creates new jobs, or enhances culture, f‌inding that all three reduce anti-
immigration attitudes with signif‌icant effects even within groups that are more opposed to immigration (namely, white
Americans, those with less education, and partisan Republicans).
immigration attitudes, labor migration, messaging, national security
Among the primary features of economic globalization
(e.g., international trade, cross-border f‌lows of capital and
labor), labor immigration stands as the most restricted. And
immigration restrictions, especially in the democratic desti-
nation countries, are not hard to explain: a majority of citizens
consistently express a preference against immigration
openness in cross-national surveys (e.g., Facchini & Mayda,
2009). As Rosenblum and Cornelius (2012) argue on this
point, if there is a universal truth about immigration policy, it
is that residents of industrialized states would prefer to see
lower levels of immigration.
While the average citizen arguably knows little about
actual policy in this issue-area (Brader et al., 2008;Citrin &
Sides, 2008;Wong, 2007), these survey results suggest that
citizens appear to be at least somewhat familiar with the
potential costs associated with external labor openness (e.g.,
greater competition for lower-skilled jobs, helping to explain
why immigration opposition tends to be especially strong
among less educated individuals). And while citizens may be
less acquainted with the potential benef‌its, there are many
positive effects associated with a more open labor immi-
gration policy. The tension between achieving these benef‌its
while also adhering to the democratic principle of public
policy being set to majoritarian preferences underlies the
liberal paradoxin this issue-area (Hollif‌ield, 1992).
Yet this liberal paradox, or the democratic immigration
dilemma, could be reduced if more citizens came to hold
favorable attitudes about external labor openness. This paper
thus considers a varied messaging strategy to shift immi-
gration attitudes, asking if positive messages and of what type
can move attitudes in a more favorable direction. While there
has been a lot of research focused on explaining individual-
level attitudes in this issue-area, less has been directed at
identifying what might foster more positive immigration
attitudes(Bonilla & Mo, 2018). Correspondingly, there is
very little evidence indicating whether and how one can
systematically decrease anti-immigration sentiments on a
broad scale(Facchini et al., 2016).
Given the importance of this research agenda, a growing
community of scholars are working on related questions. For
example, Grigorieff et al. (2016) provide experimental evi-
dence showing that information about the proportion of
immigrants improves attitudes about immigrants themselves,
but not about immigration policy. Conversely, Facchini et al.
(2016) demonstrate, using a Japanese sample, that infor-
mational treatments about how foreign workers could help
the countrys economy create support for a more open
external labor policy. However, Adida et al. (2018) f‌ind no
change in attitudes towards Syrian refugees from either an
University of Colorado Boulder, Boulder, CO, USA
Corresponding Author:
David H. Bearce, University of Colorado Boulder, 333 UCB, Boulder, CO
80309, USA.

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