Size does matter: the relationship between perceived immigrant group size and attitudes towards foreign nationals

SOURCE: Southern African Journal of Demography
OUTPUT TYPE: Journal Article
TITLE AUTHOR(S): S.Gordon, B.Roberts, J.Struwig, N.Mchunu, S.Mtyingizane, T.Zondi
DEPARTMENT: Developmental, Capable and Ethical State (DCES)
Print: HSRC Library: shelf number 11499
HANDLE: 20.500.11910/15413

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Over the last two decades, there has been a considerable influx of foreign nationals into South Africa. Some scholars and politicians have linked the growing number of foreign nationals to negative attitudes towards immigrants. Anti-immigrant sentiment represents a major problem in South Africa, undermining social cohesion and exacerbating tensions with neighbouring countries. At this stage, an essential question that must be asked is - how many international migrants does the public think that there are. Responding to this question provokes an even more important one, namely how do public beliefs about the size of the international migrant population influence attitudes towards foreign nationals? This article examines lay beliefs about the number of international migrants in the country and how these affect anti-immigrant sentiments. This study examines the attitudes of adults (16 years and older) over the 2003-2018 period to understand how public perceptions towards foreigners have changed. Representative data from the South African Social Attitudes Survey series (N= 45 047) is used for this examination. Multivariate analysis is then undertaken to determine how beliefs about immigrant group size affect attitudes towards foreign nationals. The trend data suggest that hostility towards international migrants has not increased over the period. Most are misinformed about the number of foreign nationals living in the country. Overestimations of the international immigrant stock were found to increase the likelihood of antipathy towards foreign nationals, even after controlling for socio-economic characteristics. The findings suggest that attitudes towards international immigrants would be improved if ordinary people were more well-informed about immigration.