One of the problems with opinion polls is that, although they usually provide a snapshot view of the way the public is thinking at a point in time, they frequently don’t have enough data to explain the results. Yesterday’s BBC poll was a case in point. Some of the findings are very interesting, but not immediately explicable from the information given.
What do we make of the finding, for instance, that significantly more people (44%) believe that Brexit will have a negative economic impact on Wales than believe (33%) that it will have a positive impact? Despite that finding, the indications are that the majority still wants the government to press ahead with Brexit. There are those who argue that voting habits are always driven by people’s view of their own best economic interests, but at first sight this finding seems to run counter to that interpretation. One obvious possible interpretation is that some people believe that it’s a price worth paying for the other perceived advantages which flow from Brexit. Alternatively, in the case of those opposing immigration, it might be that they believe that stopping the perceived dis-benefits to them of what they see as uncontrolled immigration may make up for the losses due directly to Brexit.
And, on the subject of immigration itself, how about the finding that 74% agree that only those EU citizens with the “right” skills or qualifications should be allowed entry? My first thought was to wonder what they think the “right” qualifications are for fruit pickers, but then I suppose fruit-picking isn’t a core industry in Wales. More generally, how do we fill those jobs which EU immigrants are currently filling where the “right” skills and qualifications are, effectively, no skills or qualifications? Or does having no qualifications in such circumstances count as having the “right” ones for the specific jobs? If it does, it makes the response meaningless.
I wonder, though, if part of the problem is that people have a perception about immigration which is significantly at odds with reality. It would help to explain why some of the areas showing the greatest hostility to immigration are areas which have the lowest incidence of it. It certainly appears that there are people who, based on what they’ve read and heard, are living in fear of the hordes of immigrants who they think are coming to steal their jobs, homes, school places, and hospital beds. Yes, the whole idea is at odds with their own direct experience, and they usually don’t mean that they want to get rid of the immigrant family next door, or the doctor who looks after their children, or that nice young man in their son’s class at school, or the people who re-opened the corner shop after it closed, or… It’s just the ‘other’ ones who are the problem.The response of people when individual cases are highlighted is often warming; but the reaction to the identified specific seems to be at odds with the reaction to the unidentified general. It would be interesting to explore this apparent dichotomy further; it might just be that a significant part of the antipathy towards immigrants owes more to a fear of the unknown than any antipathy to the real people involved.