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Acceptance of Migrants Increases With Social Interaction

Acceptance of Migrants Increases With Social Interaction

by Neli Esipova, Anita Pugliese and Julie Ray
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Migrant acceptance related to daily emotions, experiences
  • People who rate their lives positively are more accepting of migrants

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- People's acceptance of migrants depends not only on where they live and their socioeconomic situations, but also on the way they live their lives. For example, the more social people are, the higher their scores are on Gallup's new Migrant Acceptance Index. At the global level, the index score for people who interact with their friends more than 10 times in a typical week is 5.82 (out of a possible 9), while the score for those who interact with their friends once or not at all is 4.82.

Migrant Acceptance Index Increases With Social Interaction
Number of interactions with friends in a typical week
World EU countries
Index score Index score
0-1 interactions 4.82 3.66
2-5 interactions 4.99 5.33
6-10 interactions 5.41 6.33
11+ interactions 5.82 6.72
Based on surveys conducted in 138 countries in 2016; question about social interaction not asked in U.S.
Gallup World Poll

Gallup created the Migrant Acceptance Index to gauge people's acceptance of migrants based on increasing degrees of personal proximity. The index is based on three questions that Gallup asked in 138 countries in 2016 and in the U.S. in 2017. The questions ask whether people think immigrants living in their country, becoming a neighbor and marrying into their families are good things or bad things. The higher the score, the more accepting the population is of migrants.

The tendency for more social people to be more accepting of migrants holds in all regions of the world where Gallup asks these questions, but in some regions, the gap is even wider than it is at the global level. In the European Union, for example, the index score for those who typically interact with friends more than 10 times in a given week is 6.72, while it is 3.66 among those who interact once or not at all.

At the global level, younger generations are the most accepting of migrants, while older people are less accepting. But within each age group, index scores typically rise with the number of social interactions people have. In fact, among the oldest group (traditionalists), the number of social interactions has even more of a positive effect than it does among younger cohorts.

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Accepting Migrants Is an Emotional Issue

Similarly, people's Migrant Acceptance Index scores are related to their positive -- as well as negative -- daily experiences. Gallup asks people if they felt a lot of enjoyment, smiled or laughed a lot, felt well-rested, felt treated with respect, or learned or did something interesting the day before the survey. The more positive daily experiences people have, the more accepting they are of migrants.

Migrant Acceptance Index, by Daily Experiences
Positive and negative daily experiences
World EU countries
Index score Index score
Number of positive daily experiences
0 4.02 3.49
1 4.31 4.46
2 4.65 5.33
3 4.94 5.53
4 5.38 6.13
5 5.75 6.67
Number of negative daily experiences
0 5.27 6.11
1 5.38 6.40
2 5.13 5.74
3 4.90 5.30
4 4.91 4.83
5 4.94 4.66
Based on surveys conducted in 138 countries in 2016; questions about experiences not asked in U.S.
Gallup World Poll

Negative experiences have the opposite effect. Migrant Acceptance Index scores decrease with each negative experience -- worry, stress, anger, physical pain, sadness -- that people say they felt the previous day. However, the differences are less dramatic than they are with positive experiences.

These relationships hold in nearly every part of the world, but the emotional gaps vary by region. Gaps between those experiencing no positive emotions and five positive emotions are widest in regions that have been most affected during the recent migrant crisis (including the European Union), in other regions grappling with migration-related issues (such as the Gulf Cooperation Council countries) and in Oceania.

How People See Migrants Relates to How They See Their Lives

People's acceptance of migrants also depends on how they see their own lives in general. People's life evaluations are highly related to income, which is also related to Migrant Acceptance Index scores, so it is not that surprising that those who see their lives at the top -- thriving -- are more likely to accept migrants.

For the past decade, Gallup has asked adults worldwide to evaluate their lives on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale, where "0" represents the worst possible life and "10" represents the best possible life. Gallup classifies people as "thriving" if they rate their current lives a 7 or higher and their lives in five years an 8 or higher, and "suffering" if they rate both their current and future life situations a 4 or lower. Those in the middle are "struggling."

Globally, the Migrant Acceptance Index score for those who rate their current and future lives positively enough to be considered "thriving" is 5.78. The score for those who rate their current and future lives poorly enough to be considered "suffering" is 4.67. However, the gap in the scores between those who are thriving and suffering varies from region to region. The biggest gaps, coincidently, are in many of the regions that have been most affected by the recent migrant crisis.

Migrant Acceptance Index, by Life Evaluation
World EU countries
Index score Index score
Thriving 5.78 6.74
Struggling 5.23 5.83
Suffering 4.67 3.98
Based on surveys conducted in 138 countries in 2016; questions about life evaluations not asked in U.S.
Gallup World Poll

For example, in the Commonwealth of Independent States, the region with the lowest Migrant Acceptance Index scores in the world, people's acceptance of migrants does not change regardless of education or income -- bucking the global trend. However, in the CIS, the relationship between people's life evaluations and migrant acceptance follows the same pattern as elsewhere in the world.

Bottom Line

The reasons why people accept or reject migrants in their societies are complex, but these data illustrate that they clearly have emotional and social underpinnings. In all areas of the world, people's daily experiences and emotions play a role in whether they accept migrants, and their views are particularly emotionally charged in some countries where people are grappling with migration-related issues.

If countries want to maximize the positive contributions that migrants can make to sustainable development, and foster inclusive societies, they need to understand the emotional component as well as the economic one.

John Fleming contributed to the analysis in this article.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with approximately 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted throughout 2016 in 138 countries and the U.S. in 2017. In some countries, such as India, Russia and China, sample sizes are much larger, between 2,000 and 4,000 adults. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error ranges from ±2.1 percentage points to ±5.6 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

For more complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

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