The Gap between Public Preferences and Policies on Immigration: A Comparative Examination of the Effect of Politicization on Policy Congruence

The existence of a gap between public preferences for more restrictive immigration policies and relatively expansive immigration policy in Western democracies has received considerable attention. Sometimes, this gap has been explained by the nature of immigration policies: dominated by elites while the public remained uninterested. In many countries, however, immigration has gained considerable salience among the public. There are competing expectations and accounts relating to whether policy-makers ignore or follow public demands on immigration. In this article we examine the potential drivers of variations in the opinion-policy gap on immigration in seven countries (1995–2010). We analyse the effect of the politicization of immigration on this opinion-policy gap. The strength of anti-immigrant parties is unrelated to the opinion-policy gap on immigration. The salience of the issue and the intensity of the public debate are associated with the opinion-policy gap, and the combination of negative attitudes with extensive media coverage seems particularly conducive to policy congruence.