January 12, 2010

Widespread Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in Italy

by Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Senior Reseacher, Pew Global Attitudes Project

More than 1,000 immigrants have been evacuated from southern Italy after a recent wave of violence against African farm workers. Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project over the past decade find that anti-immigrant sentiment is widespread in Italy.

For example, in 2007, Italians overwhelmingly said that immigration was a big problem in their country and that immigrants — both from the Middle East and North Africa and from Eastern European countries — were having a bad impact on Italy. More recently, in the fall of 2009, more than eight-in-ten Italians said they would like to see tighter restrictions on immigration.

Italians were more likely than any other public included in the 47-nation survey conducted in 2007 to see immigration as a big problem in their country. More than nine-in-ten Italians (94%) considered immigration to be a big problem, including 64% who said it was a very big problem in Italy.

By comparison, a much narrower majority of South Africans (53%) — the second most likely to rate immigration as a very big problem in their country — shared that view.

Majorities of Italians across demographic and regional groups saw immigration as a very big problem, but those who lived in the northern parts of the country were especially likely to say that was the case.

About three-quarters (74%) of those who lived in the north saw immigration as a very big problem in Italy, compared with 54% in the south, where the recent violence has been concentrated.

Most Say Immigrants Have a Negative Influence

Italian opinion about the influence immigrants were having on their country was also among the most negative of the 47 nations surveyed in 2007.

Nearly three-quarters of Italians (73%) said immigrants had a bad impact on their country; only in South Africa was this view as widespread — 75% of South Africans said immigrants had a negative influence on their country.

Italy was the only country of the Western European nations surveyed where a majority viewed the impact of immigrants negatively. Publics in Britain, France, Germany and Spain were divided, while the Swedes had an overwhelmingly positive view of the influence immigrants had on their country.

While the recent anti-immigrant violence has been directed at Africans, Italians expressed equally negative views of immigration from Eastern European countries as they do about immigration from the Middle East and Africa. Two-thirds said it was a bad thing that people from the Middle East and North Africa come to live and work in Italy; an equal number said the same about immigrants from Eastern Europe.

Only about one-in-five Italians saw immigration from the Middle East and Africa and Eastern Europe as a good thing for Italy (20% and 22%, respectively).

Germans were also largely unwelcoming of immigrants. Solid majorities in Germany said it was bad that people from the Middle East and North Africa (64%) and from Eastern Europe (58%) moved to their country.

Opinions were more mixed in Spain and France, while many more in Britain and Sweden said immigration from the Middle East and North African and from Eastern European countries was a good thing than said it was a bad thing.

Support for Tighter Immigration Controls

Given Italians’ concerns about immigration and negative views about key immigrant groups, it is not surprising that public opinion in that country is overwhelmingly in favor of tighter restrictions on immigration.

A fall 2009 survey found that more than eight-in-ten Italians (83%) agreed that “we should restrict and control entry into our country more than we do now,” including 40% who completely agreed with the statement.

Majorities in the other Western European countries included in the 2009 poll also expressed support for tougher restrictions on immigration. About eight-in-ten in Spain (80%) and Britain (78%) shared that view, as did 65% in Germany and 64% in France.