Perceptions and misperceptions: actual size, perceived size and opposition to immigration in European societies

Anastasia Gorodzeisky, Moshe Semyonov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


The present paper contributes to the literature on the formation of attitudes and public views toward out-group populations by focusing on the relations between actual versus perceived and misperceived size of immigrant population (as indicators of competitive threat) and attitudes toward immigration. The analysis is conducted in the context of 17 European societies. The data for the analysis were obtained from the 2014 European Social Survey (ESS). The main findings lead to the conclusion that misperceptions of the size of immigrant population play a more important role than factual reality in shaping public views and attitudes toward immigration. Although perceived size is not totally detached from actual size, the discrepancy between actual and perceived size is found to be a more powerful predictor of opposition to immigration than actual size. The more inflated is the misperception the more pronounced is opposition to immigration. The impact of misperceptions, when measured as a discrepancy or a ratio, on anti-immigrant attitudes is more pronounced in countries with, proportionally, a large foreign-born population. The meaning of the findings and the relevance of misperceptions and cognitive maps in shaping public views are discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)612-630
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Issue number3
StatePublished - 17 Feb 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • European Social Survey (ESS)
  • Opposition to immigration
  • misperception
  • perceived size
  • size of immigrant population

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


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