05 February 2014

Breaking: The country is going to the dogs

One of many bizarre things about public opinion on immigration in the UK is the divergence in opinion between impacts "on your local area" and impacts on the country at large. People are much more worried about the country than about their local area. 

Sunder Katwala, Director of British Future who commissioned a recent survey showing this fact, said to the Guardian:
"People are obviously very anxious about immigration. But I was struck by how much higher it was as a national rather than a local tension. That to me suggests that managing local tensions is obviously very important, but it is probably not the answer entirely because people have this national-level concern. 
"I think it would be wrong to say that local concerns are real and national concerns are just driven by the media, but I think what is going on there is people asking: does the system work? And I don't think anyone has any confidence as how it is managed as a system. Also there is a concern around national cohesion, identity and ability to cope with the scale of change."
Clearly he's being polite here. How on earth do people know how immigration is affecting the rest of the country except through the media? Are survey respondents travelling up and down the country carrying out their own research each weekend?

A nation is an "imagined community." In your own local area you know people. By contrast: "[A nation] is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion".

So almost by definition it is true that national concerns about immigration are driven by media. 

This phenomenon is not just limited to immigration. A recent Populus survey finds that people systematically think that things are going worse "for the country as a whole" than for "you and your family". Is it even possible for things to be going well for all of us as individuals but badly "for the country as a whole"? What is the country as a whole but the aggregation of all of us individually? 

Maybe just maybe it is in fact our relentless diet of media pessimism that is giving us a distorted view of reality?

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