I got onto the New Zealand Election Survey when I was going through some old files and found a hard copy of a blog post Eric Crampton had run in 2011 on some earlier polling questions (including from previous NZES surveys) about immigration. That prompted me to look up the 2014 survey to see if it had anything on immigration.
There is only a single question this time:
The number of immigrants allowed into New Zealand should be
Increased 10.7 per cent
About the same as now: 37.4 per cent
Reduced 45.1 per cent
That seemed consistent with some other polling I’d seen. Plenty of people seem to be happy with the current level of immigration, but a large number would prefer a lower level.
The 2011 survey, by contrast, had a variety of questions about population and immigration. NZES uses many of the same respondents from survey to survey, and there was a very similar question to the 2014 question, producing very similar results.
Should the number of immigrants allowed into New Zealand be changed?
Increased 13.1 per cent
Left about the same 34.1 per cent
Reduced 44.5 per cent
But the 2011 survey also had four other questions about population and immigration. The first was about the economy.
New Zealand needs more people to grow its economy
Agree 41.7 per cent
Neither/don’t know 26.1 per cent
Disagree 29.2 per cent
The next was about skilled migration.
New Zealand needs to import more skilled workers
Agree 40.2 per cent
Neither/don’t know 18.3 per cent
Disagree 38.3 per cent
Respondents were then asked about wider impacts
Immigration threatens the uniqueness of our culture and society
Agree 37.7 per cent
Neither/don’t know 21.3 per cent
Disagree 37.8 per cent
A bigger New Zealand population would overstress our environment
Agree 55.4 per cent
Neither/don’t know 19.0 per cent
Disagree 22.6 per cent
The first three 2011 questions seem broadly consistent. People think that a rising population is good for the economy, and so don’t support (say) closing off immigration. In fact, many think the current level of immigration is just fine. The skilled worker question is potentially ambiguous – do the people saying we need to import more skilled workers mean increasing the stock (which any immigration of skilled workers does) or increasing the flow (ie increasing the rate of skilled immigration beyond current levels)?
On the “uniqueness of our culture and society” question, opinion is evenly split. In principle, and for some, losing “uniqueness” might be a good thing – those emphasising the benefits of so-called “super-diversity” might have answered “agree” and still favour current or higher levels of immigration.
But, in some ways, the question I found most interesting was the environmental one, in which a huge majority think that a bigger New Zealand population would “overstress” our environmental. Perhaps it is worded in a loaded way, but the margin is so large that can’t be the whole story. It was a surprise to me – personally I’m very fond of England’s green and pleasant land, even with 50m+ people.
Overall, there seems to be quite a tension among these respondents. They believe a story that a larger population would be good for the economy, while worrying that it would “overstress” the environment.
The 2014 survey asked respondents about where they stand between protecting the environment and promoting economic development (thus skewing choices even in the way the question was posed). 22 per cent of respondents put themselves in the middle of the 7 step scale. 24.1 per cent leant towards “do more to encourage economic development” while 46.3 per cent leant towards “do more to protect the environment”.
Perhaps consistent with all this is the ambivalence about the current level of immigration. A plurality want to reduce it somewhat, but perhaps mostly for environmental reasons. A large proportion of people are comfortable enough at current levels, and a small proportion – perhaps the strong believers in the potential gains (or libertarians simply focused on the likely benefits to the migrants – favour a higher level of immigration.
There hasn’t been much of a public debate around immigration, but these sorts of results provide some small insights into what is shaping public attitudes to immigration.