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  1. Spotlight on Policy
  2. Elections
29 November 2014updated 05 Oct 2023 8:22am

How does concern about immigration differ by age, class, party and gender?

Britain is divided, between the young and the old, middle and working class, left and right, and even men and women.

By Harry Lambert

Read this post in full on our elections site, May2015.com.

Immigration, immigration, immigration. David Cameron has finally delivered his long-awaited speech. There seems to be an assumption this matters. But Cameron has never delivered speeches like the one Barack Obama gave on race in 2008 or Gordon Brown made on the eve of the Scottish referendum.

Both did what Cameron hopes to do – reshape a narrative and create a wave of good press. When has Cameron managed that? As James Kirkup pointed out over at the Telegraph, Cameron’s last big speech – committing to an EU referendum – didn’t stem Ukip’s support (or pacify his party’s right wing for long).

But who was Cameron trying to pacify yesterday? Using data gathered by May2015, more of which will be launched next week, we can look at how attitudes toward immigration differ by age, class, party and gender – and have changed in the past five years.

The data tells a clear and remarkable story of division across Britain, by almost every metric. First, take age. Perhaps no other data more convincingly shows fear of immigration is partly about a fear of cultural change, rather than economic competition.

If opposition to immigration was about economics it should be greatest among younger voters – who are the least secure and the ones competing with EU migrants. But it a secondary issue among voters under 40. It is far more important among those who are either most likely to be in secure work (40-59 year olds) or retired (over 60s). Migrants are rarely taking the jobs of these voters.

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The graphs below show how fear of immigration has changed by each age group since the coalition was formed.

Concern started to rise among all groups eighteen months ago, as 2012 became 2013, but among the youngest it has only returned to its 2010 levels: other age groups account for its new importance. (The faded orange line is the economy, the faded purple line is healthcare.)

18-24 year olds

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.38.37

25-39 year olds

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.38.55

40-59 year olds

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.39.09

Over 60s

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 12.39.24

But not all retirees – or rather, two in three – are fearful. Concern is far greater among those from less high economic classes: “C2”, “D” and “E” voters. These are, respectively, skilled manual workers, semi or routine workers and the non or rarely working.

This suggests opposition could be about the economy. These are the classes of workers most likely to suffer if a European migrant is willing to paint, plumb or pick fruit for less cash (it often is cash).

Immigration became the most important issue for C2, D and E voters a year ago; among A, B and C1 workers (managerial, professional or white-collar workers), it is still secondary to the economy.

Continue to May2015.com.

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