The rise of immigration as an issue is bad news for the left

Immigration continues its march up the list of important issues for the public, rising 10 points to 19 percent. At the same time, a majority of 56 percent believe that Ireland has taken in too many refugees in the past year. Of those who say immigration is a major concern, the vast majority (82 percent) think the country has taken in too many refugees.

This amounts to a significant proportion of voters who believe immigration is a key priority and who also have negative attitudes toward refugees.

Those are clearly good numbers for a supposedly populist far-right party. Other figures are corroborating: 48 percent believe that the opponents of the establishment of refugee accommodation are mainly concerned residents.

It is well documented that such parties across Europe have successfully used the immigration issue to gain support from voters. In Ireland, this position focuses on Aontú supporters and independent candidates.

Sinn Féin supporters are not far behind: 61 percent of them believe Ireland has taken in too many refugees, more than the population as a whole.

Sinn Féin’s electoral base can be described as a Venn diagram composed of younger and working-class people clustered in left-wing economic positions. While younger people take a more liberal position on immigration, Sinn Féin’s older working class holds more negative views towards refugees.

The need to bring these two blocs of voters together – young people and working-class voters – is the key challenge facing left-wing political parties, and one that no doubt gives Sinn Féin, which again denied its support in this month’s poll, an important task to do Concern.

Quite often these two voting blocs have broken apart due to the development of this particular issue.

The issue has often been used as a wedge, as in Australia during the 2001 Tampa affair, to deliberately split the left.

A little over 10 years ago Britain also had a so-called progressive majority, with the Labor Party and Liberal Democrats consistently winning at least 10 per cent more than the Conservative Party and UKIP in all elections. However, with the increasing importance of immigration and therefore Ukip, this was completely reversed.

It should be clear that the increasing importance of immigration is bad news for the left, which otherwise holds comfortable majority positions on issues affecting its economic values.

All the usual strategies for targeting the far right can currently be seen in Irish politics: some deny and suggest that protests and activities should not be viewed as far right; others get angry and try to convey solidarity; while another group negotiates and looks for meaningful “talks”.

None of these are likely to address the importance of the immigration issue.

What we have to accept, however, is that far-right parties and anti-immigrant positions have been steadily increasing across Europe for almost 40 years, and all of this has been attempted to counter their support.

One thing should of course be clear: while attitudes towards refugees remain relatively static, the importance of immigration is more varied.

The only sure way support for the far right could grow is if the issue of immigration gains traction, especially given that well over 16 percent have relatively negative views of refugees.

In Ireland, the far right has plenty of room to grow, especially where the issue is gaining momentum.

One way this could happen is with populist sentiment in Ireland. As previously reported, the overwhelming majority of Irish people are quite distrustful of the political class. If, as in many other countries, this feeling is combined with concerns about immigration, the importance of the topic will inevitably increase again.

Our media-based question here is quite insightful: we asked if the public felt media coverage of the refugee situation was biased or balanced in one way or another, and 42pc said they felt the media was in favor of refugees and be biased against those with concerns.

The media landscape is particularly relevant here, as it has often been argued in the academic literature that certain British newspapers were instrumental in raising the issue of immigration and anti-refugeeism.

In Ireland, there is a link between attitudes towards the issue and media consumption Irish times For example, readers take the most liberal view and readers of tabloids the most conservative view. However, it is often quite difficult to disentangle the endogenous relationship between media consumers and their producers.

What’s interesting, though, is that even those who don’t pay attention to the news take a relatively conservative stance.

Likewise, abstainers and undecideds in our survey tend to share the same perspective.

This reflects the fact that much of the gains of far-right activists often come from a subset of voters, mostly in working-class neighborhoods, who are looking for change, but not of the left-wing variety.

Kevin Cunningham is Managing Director of Ireland Thinks and Lecturer in Politics at TU Dublin The rise of immigration as an issue is bad news for the left

Fry Electronics Team

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