Immigration and Redistribution​

Authors: Alberto Alesina, Armando Miano and Stefanie Stantcheva 

Publication: NBER Working Paper 24733 (2018) [Revise and Resubmit at The Review of Economic Studies]

Abstract: We design and conduct large-scale surveys and experiments in six countries to investigate how natives perceive immigrants and how these perceptions influence their preferences for redistribution. We find strikingly large misperceptions about the number and characteristics of immigrants: in all countries, respondents greatly overestimate the total number of immigrants, think immigrants are culturally and religiously more distant from them, and are economically weaker — less educated, more unemployed, and more reliant on and favored by government transfers — than is the case. Given the very negative baseline views that respondents have of immigrants, simply making them think about immigration before asking questions about redistribution, in a randomized manner, makes them support less redistribution, including actual donations to charities. Information about the true shares and origins of immigrants is ineffective, and mainly acts as a prime that makes people think about immigrants and reduces their support for redistribution. An anecdote about a “hard working” immigrant is somewhat more effective, suggesting that when it comes to immigration, salience and narratives shape people’s views more deeply than hard facts.