Explaining Attitudes toward Immigration: The Role of Regional Context and Individual Predispositions

Existing research makes competing predictions and yields contradictory findings about the relationships between natives’ exposure to immigrants and their attitudes toward immigration. Engaging this disjuncture, this article argues that individual predispositions moderate the impact of exposure to immigrants on negative attitudes toward immigrants. Negative attitudes toward immigration are more likely among individuals who are most sensitive to such threats. Because country-level studies are generally unable to appropriately measure the immigration context in which individuals form their attitudes, this article uses a newly collected dataset on regional immigration patterns in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland to test the argument. The data show that increasing and visible diversity is associated with negative attitudes toward immigrants, but only among natives on the political right. This finding improves the understanding of attitudes toward immigrants and immigration and has implications for the study of attitudes toward other policies and for immigration policy itself.