Immigration and Racial Prejudice in Wales

I spent part of the Easter break looking over old polling results. But then I am sure that we all did that… Among the more interesting material I was studying was some from the BBC/ICM poll published earlier this year; material which, unfortunately, I was not able to comment on when the poll was first published. So this was well worth returning to.

The poll included several interesting and important questions about attitudes to immigration, and about racial prejudice, in Wales. I think the results are worth considering.

On immigration, the poll asked people about their extent of agreement or disagreement with the following two statements:

“Migrants from other countries have a positive impact on Britain’s economy”


“Britain’s cultural life is generally enriched by migrants coming to live here from other countries”

What did they find? First let’s look at overall levels of agreement and disagreement across the entire sample:

Response Positive Impact on Economy Enrich Britain’s cultural life
Strongly agree 32% 29%
Tend to Agree 28% 27%
Neither Agree nor Disagree 20% 20%
Tend to Disagree 6% 9%
Strongly Disagree 12% 14%
Don’t Know 2% 1%

The picture here is substantially more positive towards migration than one might imagine from much popular media discussion. Far more respondents suggested that migration was a positive thing than a negative one – either in terms of its economic or cultural impact. Yet these results actually fit within a broader picture: a number of studies in recent years have been showing diminishing levels of hostility towards immigration and immigrants.

Looking at the detailed results of the poll, these suggest that somewhat more positive attitudes to the benefits of immigration can be found among the following groups: students, those in full-time work, those of higher social grades, Welsh speakers, supporters of Welsh independence or devolution, respondents who had some sense of European identity, and those born in England. Less positive attitudes were somewhat more evident amongst unemployed and retired respondents, those not speaking Welsh, and those opposed to any devolution at all. It is also notable that there were slightly lower levels of positive attitudes towards immigration among those respondents born in Wales – compared to those born in England. There was little relationship evident between immigration attitudes and age group. Of course, many of these different characteristics will be inter-related.

The BBC/ICM poll also carried a pair of direct questions probing perceptions of, and expectations about, changing levels of racial prejudice in Wales:

“Compared to five years ago, do you think there is generally more, less, or about the same amount of racial prejudice in Wales now?


“In the next five years, do you think the amount of racial prejudice in Wales will increase, decrease, or remain about the same?”

Here are the pattern of results for these two questions:

Response Compared to five years ago… In next five years…
More/Increase 40% 31%
Less/Decrease 16% 18%
About the same 37% 43%
Don’t Know 6% 7%

Here, although there is no clear majority for any position, opinion tends towards the negative. A plurality of respondents perceived growing prejudice, and rather more expected it to increase over the next few years than anticipated a decline. Interestingly, this pattern of responses was largely common across different sub-groups within the overall sample: regarding both perceptions and expectations, there were few substantial differences.

Finally, the BBC/ICM poll asked two questions about close relationships – in a way that sought to tap into sensitive areas and prejudices. Respondents were asked the following:

“How comfortable, if at all, do you feel about an adult being in a romantic relationship with someone…”


“How comfortable, if at all, would you feel if a close relative was in a romantic relationship with someone…”

with both questions being asked about the following two categories of people: those of a different race, and of the same sex. The table below shows the overall pattern of responses.

An Adult

Response: How comfortable? Different race Same sex
Very 68% 56%
Quite 25% 27%
Not very 3% 7%
Not at all 3% 8%
Don’t know 2% 2%

Close Relative

Response: How comfortable? Different race Same sex
Very 65% 56%
Quite 27% 27%
Not very 5% 8%
Not at all 3% 7%
Don’t know 1% 2%

There were some differences here by age group and social grade, with older and lower social grade respondents somewhat more likely to be lower down the scale of ‘comfort’ in these scenarios; so also were outright opponents of devolution. But even within these groups, clear majorities reported either being ‘very’ or ‘quite’ comfortable.

Overall, the responses that were obtained by the BBC/ICM poll do not paint a picture of a Wales seething with anti-immigration sentiment and hating the idea of inter-racial relationships. On the latter point, same sex relationships still appear to generate somewhat higher levels of discomfort – although even here, very much amongst a minority. Yet there are still significant minorities of people who are dubious about the purported benefits of immigration, and in some cases deeply hostile. And there are even larger proportions of people who are pessimistic about the direction of travel regarding levels of racial prejudice in Wales. What conclusions can we draw? As so often, the data shows a landscape of public attitudes that has plenty of complexity and nuance.


  • Trevor Payne

    This is a heartening analysis. I too get no sense of a strong anti-immigrant sentiment from the people I know, who while they may be a self defining group, also cover a range of the categories of people outlined above. It reinforces my view of Wales as a tolerant, decent nation.

  • James Crowe

    Dear Roger this is a really interesting poll & suggests a much more positive attitude towards immigrants than I had imagined. Have I missed reports on this by the BBC? I haven’t seen any, despite them being joint sponsors.
    I ask as a committed Remainer .

  • George Sinclair

    Typical Jacques Protic response to anything that suggests tolerance…
    Fact: Planning Inspectorate upheld objections.
    The main considerations for refusing the appeal were:
    • the appropriateness of the site for residential development given it is no longer allocated for residential use in the development plan
    • housing land supply
    • the adequacy of the submitted language assessments
    On the assumption that you have read and understood the first two points, the third point is relatively otiose. But then, you should never let the facts get in the way of your prejudices and preconceptions, Jacques.

  • John R Walker

    How does this poll define immigrant?

    How does this poll define race?

  • Alwyn

    What on earth is Jacques Protic blithering on about? He makes a slimy insinuation against Plaid Cymru that it welcomes any immigration except the English, and then provides, as some kind of justification, a link to Plaid Arfon’s campaign to oppose excessive development of housing in Bangor. What on earth has that to do with race or nationality??

  • YoungHenry

    I’m afraid the poll phrased the questions in terms that are set to lead to a positive answer. Who would want to be the odd-one-out while everyone is told not to be (…)? People are also likely to repeat the sound bites “enriching” and “positive”. However, I’m sure you would get very different results if you were asking about the daily life, say, the rates of people with immigrant background deemed acceptable in your town, in your children’s schools, etc. Or do they associate immigration with higher crime rates? The results are likely show a schizophrenic population, as in other studies across the West. ( Otherwise you couldn’t explain the massive white flight going on. )

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