Public attitudes to migration – audience insights

By 05/09/2018July 24th, 2019Opinion


IMIX Chief Executive, Emma Harrison, spoke on Wednesday, 5 September, to the APPG on Migration in parliament at their Public Attitudes to Migration Event. You can read the transcript of her talk below.

Polling is very helpful in understanding opinions on a range of issues and as part of a mix of research can really help in identifying public attitudes but on its on can only tell us what people think about an issue. Not how they have formed those views and how we might go about influencing them.

It is important that we all recognise that stats and facts, while important from a policy positioning point of view, do not persuade people to shift their thinking. Indeed, there is a lot of research which suggests that people either use stats to further entrench their views (if the polling matches their opinions) or that they just dismiss them as irrelevant if they don’t match their world view.

What people find harder to dismiss is peoples’ real-life experiences.

It’s for that reason, we at IMiX take an audience-insight approach to understanding public attitudes. We’ve taken lessons from work in other fields, such as the Gates Foundations Attitudes to Aid tracker to better understand what data is telling us, and importantly what this means for creating and targeting messages.

We are not the first who have looked at this approach in the migration field – and no doubt won’t be the last because people love to do research – but what we’ve been trying to do is take the good work of Hope Not Hate and British Future and others to build a picture of how people FEEL about immigration and how we can understand whether they are influenced by messaging, and the types of messaging that might affect their thinking and behaviours. From this work we are considering strategies on how to have a positive impact on people’s attitudes and behaviours.

The information we have used includes data on:

  • Attitudes to migration, asylum, diversity and cohesion
  • Attitudes to Brexit and the EU
  • Psychological and motivational factors
  • Geo-demographic and regional patterns and correlations

Before we take a quick look at the types of people who hold strong views about migration, as well we those whose opinions are more nuanced, a word about segmentation.

People can rarely be categorised. While we may all have deeply held views on a variety of issues, we are all human, fallible and contradictory! That is the joy of being a human. If we could just say, ‘A man aged 50 will be anti- immigration’, our work would be easy.

People also rarely like to be categorised as individuals are unique. For example, many of you will have been told about an ‘anxious middle’ which exists in the UK. People might have concerns and anxieties about immigration, but they certainly won’t see themselves as anxious, indeed they will feel that their concerns are legitimate and rational! Which is why I am always little nervous about using labels as part of audience segmentation. One of the big challenges of audience segmentation is labels are created as a shortcut and then we start using them externally.

The groups of people we’ve identified fall into one of four groups which have been labelled:


More detailed information about the segments is available here.

In brief though, the Liberals are our base at IMIX. They believe that people who make their home in the UK should be welcome and that they add value to communities and society.

This group supports refugees and asylum seekers, they will visit people held in detention centres and they think that migrants who work here are contributors. We look to this group to carry our messages to their friends and families; to champion the cause and generally do good things to help and support migrants.

The next two groups make up this ‘persuadable / anxious middle’. We’ve separated them out as we think their nervousness about migration is so fundamentally different, you can’t lump them together.

The Grafters usually live in areas where there has been historically higher migration and high migration now, they live in the north and midlands. They often worry about the economic future of their families and friends and believe that hard work should get you somewhere. In this grouping you’ll find many people of colour.

When we think about how to influence them, we think about their values, they reckon everyone should be given a fair chance at making life better for their family. We tap into that. We also use clear cut language and focus on the here and now.

The Traditionalists on the other hand live in areas which have lower historical and current migration, in the suburbs. Their defining feature is they don’t like cultural difference, for this group integration is hugely important as is contribution. Our colleagues at British Future do a lot of work to engage them on shared history. When we talk to them about migration, we reassure them and try to put them at ease. We talk about the shared values of pride in Britain.

Lastly, there are the Sceptics. Overall, they live in areas which has seen more recent migration, places like my home town of Grantham in Lincolnshire. This group is more likely to be anti-EU; they don’t trust the government and are quite angry about the way things are in England – and predominately they are English over Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish.

There is a lot of debate about how and whether to engage with this group, so we take our lead from Anat Shanker Osario a leading researcher in the US on audience insight. We do not look to find common ground with them, rather we look to contain, neutralise and defuse them in public debate.

All this information helps us shape campaigns and interventions to persuade people of the value of migration, but ultimately the thing that works best is the power of personal stories. We saw this through the Windrush campaign where people from all walks of life found themselves siding with the Windrush Generation due to the heart-wrenching but identifiable stories.

To conclude, some people have entrenched views which are immovable; others can be persuaded. Those who can be persuaded, can be persuaded by migration supporters as well as detractors. Getting the message right, through the right channel, at the right time is key to success. And tell stories, facts can be argued with, personal experience can’t.

Author IMIX

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