Changing attitudes suggest that liberals should examine their own prejudices
What impact did the Brexit referendum have upon attitudes to immigration? When Manchester University academic Rob Ford polled his Twitter followers, most were pessimistic, fearing attitudes had hardened.
The reality, as Ford pointed out, is that on almost every measure, people have become more positive. The number who think immigration is the most important political issue has fallen since the referendum and is at its lowest level since the 2008 crash . There has been a jump in the number who are positive about the economic and the cultural impacts of immigration.
One of the strongest predictors of views on immigration is education level – those with more qualifications tend to be more open. This is still the case. But people have become more positive about immigration, whatever their educational attainment. The same is true of Leavers or Remainers. This, as Ford observes, raises a number of questions. What has made people more positive? And why do many liberals seem reluctant to accept that the public has become less anxious about the issue?
Those more critical of immigration may feel that they have won the argument. It may also be that, before the referendum, politicians were more eager to finger immigration as a social ill. Today, there seems less need to stir such anxieties. The second question is probably easier to answer. There is a widespread perception among liberals that those who voted Leave were mainly bigots. The referendum result led many to fear that the bigots have been let off the leash and many cannot see beyond that fear.
Ah, the irony: liberals often claim that those hostile to immigration ignore the facts. But many of the same liberals seem equally unwilling to accept the facts when they contradict their perceptions (even prejudices) about why people feel anxious about immigration.