Marc Helbling, Rahsaan Maxwell, Richard Traunmüller
Numbers, Selectivity and Generosity. The Conditional Nature of Immigration Policy Preferences

Comparative Political Studies, 2024: 57, issue 2, pp. 187-381
ISSN: 0010-4140 (print), 1552-3829 (online)

Immigration is an extremely divisive political issue in Western Europe and North America. We examine whether immigration policy preferences are more nuanced than commonly understood. Too often, analyses of immigration policy preferences only consider the number of people allowed into the country. Yet, immigration policy must also address which people are allowed into the country and what rights they can have. We present results from a series of original surveys conducted in Germany between April 2020 and August 2022. We find preferences about policies governing immigration flows are conditional on policies governing entrance criteria and rights eligibility. Respondents who oppose immigration in general are willing to compromise and allow more immigration if entrance criteria become more selective. Respondents who support immigration are willing to compromise and accept less immigration if rights become more generous. Our findings have implications for understanding divides over immigration as well as policy debates more generally.