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Understanding data about society

May 29th, 2019 by Graham Attwell

I have often written about the problems in interpreting and making sense of data. I very much like an article ‘What drives anti-migrant attitudes‘ by and published on the Social Europe Site yesterday.

They analysed data from the European Social Survey (ESS)—a biannual survey of Europe’s societies and people’s attitudes since 2002and looking at how people think about migration and migrants. They say: “It is not the presence of migrants as such that generates anti-migrant sentiments: these are strongest in countries with very few migrants. Similarly, on an individual level there is a strong negative correlation between personal contact with migrants and attitudes.”

“The analysis of the data showed that more general societal processes are more likely to shape attitudes: the level of trust in one another and in state institutions, the perception of social cohesion and the feeling of safety in a direct (physical) and indirect (existential) sense. We found that individuals who rejected migrants, extremely and homogeneously, did not differ in demographic characteristics from the rest of the population. Where they did differ was in their subjective perceptions of control: to a much greater extent, they feel they have financial difficulties, are alienated from politics, lack trust and hold security-focused, individualistic values. All in all, people who feel politically disempowered, financially insecure and without social support are the most likely to become extremely negative towards migrants.”

The European Social survey is a time series survey. This allows comparison with earlier results. Messing and Sagvari found a similar pattern in looking at changing attitudes over time. Those countries in which people are more trusting of public institutions, and more satisfied with the performance of their governments, democratic institutions and national economies, are the most likely to be more accepting of migrants.

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