When UCL researchers released their latest findings on the fiscal impact of immigration a fortnight ago, they were portrayed in the media as somehow missing the point. It seems that data on the economic benefits of immigration can’t make a dent in current political debates about the subject. So why are such arguments so ineffectual in shifting opinion?
One answer lies in the inadequacy of abstract data. Apparently people don’t trust numbers – that’s “just facts”, as someone put it at panel discussion I recently attended on immigration. Anecdotes and second-hand stories about welfare abuse appear to be more compelling and credible than UCL or NIESR reports. The (admittedly infrequent) conversations I have with people who express strongly anti-immigrant views certainly suggest that information is largely drawn from second hand stories and the experiences of others – family members or friends, doubtless reinforced by right-wing media and political rhetoric.
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