Social Contact, Cultural Marginality or Economic Self-Interest? Attitudes Towards Immigrants in Northern Ireland

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Although scholars of mass political behaviour have proposed various explanations for why an individual would oppose immigration, the relative impact of these various explanations has rarely been assessed. It is with this omission in mind that this study assesses empirically three alternative theories in explaining attitudes towards immigrants: the social contact hypothesis, cultural marginality and economic self-interest. Using the 2003 Northern Ireland component of the European Social Survey the results suggest that social exposure and cultural marginality are the two key explanations, independently important, in predicting pro-immigration attitudes within this society. Of these two theoretical perspectives, however, social exposure, particularly in terms of having a previously established friendship network of immigrants, stands out as the most important and consistent predictor of attitudes. It is to these two factors, especially prior social exposure, that pro-immigrant politicians and policy makers should direct their attention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-476
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Ethnic & Migration Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2006


  • immigrants
  • attitudes
  • social contact
  • cultural marginality
  • Northern Ireland

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