Immigration and misinformation

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Someone once said that people who look through keyholes are apt to get the idea that most things are keyhole shaped. Human beings are greatly affected by the power of their own perception. And although many of us would like to believe our opinions are objective and rooted in facts, the reality remains that the information we receive, and how we receive it, plays a large part in how we interpret the world; if the information is manipulated, so are we.  A survey released late last week is showcasing the importance of accurate information when it comes to one of the more contentious issues in the U.S. today: immigration. An article in Time titled “How We See Immigration — and Why We’re Wrong” details the study’s findings:

Americans and Europeans both tend to greatly overestimate the immigrant population in their home countries — but, when armed with accurate population figures, they hold significantly more lenient views towards migrants.

In the U.S., for instance, the average resident believes that 39% of the U.S. population was born abroad; the real figure is less than 14%. When told the correct figure before they answered a question about acceptable immigration levels, however, respondents were 20% less likely to say that there are "too many" immigrants in their country than residents who weren't primed with the accurate stat. Similar discrepancies exist in the U.K., France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain, according to a survey of 6,000 people in the U.S., Canada and six European countries carried out by the U.S.-headquartered transatlantic think-tank The German Marshall Fund (GMF). Americans are also ill-informed about illegal immigration; 58% of those polled said that most immigrants did not have legal residency. In fact, illegal immigrants comprise less than one-third of the migrant population in the U.S.

The study also found that almost 60 percent of Americans felt that immigrants have integrated well into U.S. culture, a surprisingly high statistic considering how little progress is being made by legislators on immigration reform. It seems we have a much more liberal attitude than, say, the Brits;  as reported by The Daily  Telegraph, “Britons are more fearful about immigration than other nations...59% of Britons agreed there were 'too many' people living in the country who were not born here...a total of 47% believed legal immigrants were a burden on social services like schools and hospitals."

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