September 3, 2019. Eugenio Levi, Rama Dasi Mariani & Fabrizio Patriarca on ‘Hate at first sight only. The presence of immigrants, electoral outcomes and policy insights.’ GLO Research for Policy Note No. 3.

GLO Research for Policy Note No. 3 – Theme 10. Migration

Hate at first sight only. The presence of immigrants, electoral outcomes and policy insights.

by Eugenio Levi, Rama Dasi Mariani & Fabrizio Patriarca

Most of the studies on how electoral outcomes in Western Europe and in the US are influenced by the presence of immigrants in the neighborhood provide evidence that living in an area with a greater number of immigrants increases the probability of voting for anti-immigrant parties. The immediate policy implication would be that people want to restrict immigration tout court. But is this so?

In a recent GLO Discussion Paper and forthcoming in the Journal of Population Economics, we contribute to the debate on this topic by analyzing the dynamic aspects related to this effect. This is to investigate if policies should be concerned with the time and geographical concentration of new arrivals more than on their number and focus on integration as well as coping ability of local populations. In particular, we formulate the hypothesis that hostility toward immigration is temporary: there is “hate at first sight” only.

We focus on the 2004, 2009 and 2014 European elections in the United Kingdom, a country in which the immigration issue has been central to all of the latest electoral outcomes.  The UK Independent Party (Ukip), a party founded in 1993 by Conservatives who were cross with the EU, became a strongly anti-immigration party under the leadership of Nigel Farage. It boosted its votes from 15.6% in 2004 to 26.8% in 2014 in correspondence with an increase in the number of immigrants from 8% to 11% of the total population.

What we do.

  • We first test for a short-run effect of the presence of immigrants on votes for Ukip. In our statistical model we add to the share of immigrants the 2-year migration flows, as this is the time lag suggested by time series tests. After having verified that the appropriate statistical conditions for time consistency are satisfied, we proceed to our main analysis. Our models control for unemployment, demographic variables, and population and include specifications with fixed effects for each area and with an instrumental variable approach.
  • Previous studies on Denmark and Italy find that hostility is stronger in rural areas. Immigration to larger urban centers has generally started before immigration to more rural areas, which can explain why previous studies have found a different effect in these two different contexts. Therefore, we test if this difference is completely explained by the time path of immigration or if there is something more, maybe related to political and cultural factors.
  • We explore potential issues related to integration. Do changes in unemployment, welfare expenditures per capita or in the number of crimes explain the short-run effect of the presence of immigrants? These are very common explanations, as individuals may feel that immigrants are to be blamed for increased unemployment, for reduced access to welfare or for an increasing number of crimes.

What we find.

  • The effect of immigration on anti-immigrant votes is indeed a short-run effect. Areas where there has been an acceleration of new arrivals by 1 percentage point see an increase in votes for Ukip by 1.1-1.2 p.p.. In other words, immigration flows boost Ukip votes. In contrast, an increase of 1 p.p. in the share of immigrants corresponds to 1.7-1.9 p.p. fewer votes for Ukip.
  • There is something more to hostility in rural areas than just the time path of immigration. First, we replicate previous evidence that the long-run effect of immigration is declining by population density. Second, if we look at heterogeneity by socioeconomic characteristics, we find that the effect of immigration flows, although positive and significant in all UK, is different in magnitude across areas and reaches a peak of 2.1 p.p. in the “English and Welsh Countryside” (see Figure 1). Only in “London cosmopolitan, Suburban traits and Business and Education centres” and “Mining Heritage and Manufacturing” the share of immigrants has a negative significant effect. This further suggests that political and cultural factors may be more relevant in explaining the difference in votes across areas than the difference between urban and rural areas.
  • Looking more closely at integration issues, in areas that have diminishing welfare benefits per capita immigration flows have a stronger effect on votes for Ukip. Increase in unemployment and in crimes do not seem to matter in relation to hostility to immigration. It is to note that the coefficient of immigration flows always stays significant, suggesting that there is substantially more that is left unexplained.

Figure 1 – UKIP votes by supergroups of area: estimated coefficients and confidence intervals for immigrant share and flows.


Our findings clearly substantiate that the “hate at first sight” effect , e.g the impact of immigration on the ascent of anti-immigrant parties as the result of the short-term material consequences and/or identity reactions induced by migration flows, is indeed a temporary phenomenon. Two main policy implications follow. First, there is a need to pay closer attention to how flows are distributed over time and space: it is probably better to allow immigrants to arrive in small waves and distribute recent arrivals in a homogeneous manner and based on local political and cultural factors, rather than in large ones and concentrated in certain areas. Second, policies should focus more on integration across its cultural, social and economic dimensions. Clearly, in the long run, social forces can drive toward integration; however, policies can expedite this process. In fact, we find that the electoral impact of immigration is weaker and shortly reverted when more welfare resources become available. Therefore, policies and  resources should aim both at facilitating the integration process of migrants as well as the local population’s ability to cope with the changes.


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NOTE: Opinions expressed here are those of the authors and not of the GLO, which has no institutional position.