That anti-immigration sentiment ebbs and flows with immigration rates makes intuitive sense — except that another British survey, conducted by the highly regarded Ipsos MORI Social Research Institute earlier this year, found this relationship to be far from airtight. In 1978, 70 percent of the British public agreed that the country was in danger of “being swamped” by other cultures, when net migration was in fact “nada” — as in zero! About a decade later, in 1989, 63 percent of Brits felt that there were “too many immigrants” in the country when net migration was still relatively low.
This suggests that anti-immigration sentiment is the given. It is the default condition of humanity. So if you go looking for it, you’ll find it. The real news, buried under sensationalistic headlines hell bent on berating Brits for racism, is what such surveys reveal about when, where, and among whom such feelings are declining.
For starters, if 2011 instead of 2001 was used as the benchmark year, one could use the NatCen data to argue even more plausibly that racism in Britain is waning, not rising. That’s because in 2011, 38 percent of Brits — 8 percentage points more than now — admitted to being prejudiced. But playing that up wouldn’t be emotionally satisfying for Britain’s liberal press.