Anti-Immigration and Pro-Italy

September 29, 2011

A recent survey of global attitudes compared Italy to several other nations on a variety of issues and found that anti-immigrant sentiment is greater there than anywhere else and seems to go hand-in-hand with a strong sense of national pride and cultural superiority. Negativity about immigration peaks in Northern Italy, possibly because that region attracts more immigrants, but even in Southern Italy it's still greater than in any other nation.

Strong Concerns About Immigration

Immigration, however, may be the issue on which Italy is most distinctive. Like much of Western Europe, over the last few years Italy has wrestled with how to successfully integrate and assimilate its Muslim minority. Additionally, the recent influx of Romanian immigrants — especially Roma, or gypsies from Romania — into Italy has led to new controversies over immigration. The 2007 Pew poll included a number of questions on immigration, and on each of these, Italians held the most negative opinions of any Western public. Nearly two-thirds of Italians (64%) believe immigration is a very big problem for their country. In no other Western nation did a majority rate immigration a very big problem (Spain was the closest at 42%). In fact, Italy's level of concern was the highest, not only among Western countries, but among all 47 nations included in the survey.

Similarly, roughly three-in-four Italians (73%) say immigrants are having a bad effect on their country, considerably more than any other Western public, and second only to South Africa (75%) among the 47 nations in the study.

Fully 87% of Italians say there should be tighter restrictions on people coming into their country — up seven points from 2002, and again, the highest percentage among Western countries. Italian attitudes are overwhelmingly negative toward immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa, as well as immigrants from Eastern Europe. Two-thirds say immigration from each of these areas is a bad thing.

National Pride

Despite all these signs of a rather dark mood, many Italians still reject the malaise argument, including Giuliano Amato, the country's interior minister. A week after Fisher's article appeared, Amato struck back in a letter to The New York Times, trumpeting his country's economy and health care system, and its recent successes in fighting the mafia.

Certainly, Amato is not alone in taking pride in his country, especially its culture. Italians are much more likely than their fellow Westerners to believe in their country's cultural pre-eminence. About two-in-three Italians (68%) agree with the statement "Our people are not perfect, but our culture is superior to others."

By contrast, in neighboring France — a country well known for having pride in its language and culture — only 32% say their culture is better than others. Italians are even more confident in their cultural superiority than Americans (55%), who themselves are well known for their strong national pride.

Richard Wike. "Italy's Malaise: La Vita Non É Cosí Dolce: Italians' Spirits Are Flagging — But Not Their Sense of Cultural Superiority". Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2008.

More than 1,000 immigrants have been evacuated from southern Italy after a recent wave of violence against African farm workers. Surveys conducted by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project over the past decade find that anti-immigrant sentiment is widespread in Italy.

For example, in 2007, Italians overwhelmingly said that immigration was a big problem in their country and that immigrants — both from the Middle East and North Africa and from Eastern European countries — were having a bad impact on Italy. More recently, in the fall of 2009, more than eight-in-ten Italians said they would like to see tighter restrictions on immigration.

Italians were more likely than any other public included in the 47-nation survey conducted in 2007 to see immigration as a big problem in their country. More than nine-in-ten Italians (94%) considered immigration to be a big problem, including 64% who said it was a very big problem in Italy.

By comparison, a much narrower majority of South Africans (53%) — the second most likely to rate immigration as a very big problem in their country — shared that view.

Majorities of Italians across demographic and regional groups saw immigration as a very big problem, but those who lived in the northern parts of the country were especially likely to say that was the case.

About three-quarters (74%) of those who lived in the north saw immigration as a very big problem in Italy, compared with 54% in the south, where the recent violence has been concentrated.

Juliana Menasce Horowitz. "Widespread Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in Italy". Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2010.

Related: Anti-Minority Sentiment, Nationalist Attitudes Highest in Italy

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