Comparative European Politics

, Volume 17, Issue 6, pp 832–859 | Cite as

Responsiveness and the macro-origins of immigration opinions: Evidence from Belgium, France and the UK

  • Steven M. Van HauwaertEmail author
  • Patrick English
Original Article


Throughout recent decades, social science studies have systematically reported that citizens respond to their macro-social environments. While this is typically true in highly visible and salient policy domains, scholarship remains ambiguous about which macro-environmental factors are at the origins of citizens’ opinions on immigration. We contribute to this debate by theorising three factors that have the potential to move immigration opinions and subsequently testing their empirical relevance. We most notably emphasise the role of immigration itself and ask whether and how increasing immigration levels affect immigration opinions. We then examine to what extent the regional power structure and economic hardship interplay with this relationship. Through the dyadic ratios algorithm, we estimate a unique set of immigration opinion measures across regions in Belgium, France and the UK between 1990 and 2015. When modelling these measures, our findings are threefold. First, citizens are responsive to their environments, and specifically to immigration. Second, citizens become more favourable towards immigrants when immigration levels increase. Third, we find evidence that decentralisation (regional power) conditions this empirical relationship, while there is little to no indication that economic conditions affect immigration opinions, either directly or indirectly.


Public opinion Immigration Responsiveness NUTS region Dyadic ratios algorithm Time-series cross-sectional (TSCS) 



Results presented in this study have been obtained as part of the Global Public Opinions Project (GPOP), which receives funding from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Data collection for the regional immigration opinions was done by Andrea Y. Tapia Velázquez and Katia Guzmán Martinez. We thank them for their continued investment and research excellence. Earlier versions of this manuscript have been presented at the 2017 ‘State of the Federation’ and the 2016 MPSA conference, as well as the DEP departmental seminar at CIDE. We are grateful to participants and panel members for their feedback, comments and suggestions. In particular, we thank the anonymous reviewers and editors of Comparative European Politics, Ryan Carlin, Manlio Cinalli, Robert Huber, Xavier Romero, Matt Singer and Tom Verthé for their valuable comments and insights.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 99 kb)


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© Springer Nature Limited 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceJohannes Gutenberg University MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Department of PoliticsUniversity of ManchesterManchesterUK

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