Immigration and Redistribution

Alberto Alesina (Harvard University)
Armando Miano (Harvard University)
Stefanie Stantcheva (Harvard University)

Abstract: We design and conduct large-scale surveys and experiments in six countries to investigate how natives perceive immigrants and how perceptions influence their preferences for redistribution. We find strikingly large biases in natives' perceptions of the number and characteristics of immigrants: in all countries, respondents greatly overestimate the total number of immigrants, think immigrants are culturally and religiously more distant from them, and are economically weaker - less educated, more unemployed, poorer, and more reliant on government transfers - than is the case. Given the very negative baseline views that respondents have of immigrants, simply making them think about immigration first and then redistribution in a randomized manner makes them support less redistribution, including actual donations to charities. We also experimentally show respondents information about the true i) number, ii) origin, and iii) "hard work" of immigrants in their country. Information on the "hard work" of immigrants generates more support for redistribution.