EVS2017: Results from a Survey Experiment on Social Distance in Italy

Riccardo Ladini (member of the Italian joint team of EVS and WVS) gave a presentation on May 23rd 2019 during his stay as EUROLAB grant holder at GESIS – Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences.

In his talk Who do you prefer not to have as a neighbour? An “immigrant” or a “foreign worker”? Evidence from a survey experiment in the Italian edition of the European Values Study – World Values Survey 2017”(with Ferruccio Biolcati-Rinaldi) , he reported the results from a survey experiment carried out in the Italian EVS survey.

Abstract: Since in recent years the salience of the immigration issue has largely increased in the Italian context, as well as in other Western European countries, it is of particular interest to assess the current level of natives’ social distance towards immigrants. In the European Values Study, the most suitable item to measure it brings together different dimensions, by asking individuals whether they would like or not to have “immigrants/foreign workers” as neighbours. Nonetheless, especially in a period where the media tend to refer to immigrants as refugees and not as workers of other nationalities, that item could lead to misleading results since individuals could give a different weight to the “immigrants” and “foreign workers” labels. By means of an experiment in the Italian edition of the European Values Study – World Values Survey 2017, our work aims at overcoming that issue. The experiment consists in randomly varying the formulation of the item: 70% of the sample receives the standard item, while the remaining part of the sample is respectively assigned to “foreign workers” (15 % of the sample) or “immigrants” (15% of the sample) items.

Our contribution has a threefold aim. Substantially, we want to identify and quantify the possible presence of a larger social distance towards those who are simply defined as immigrants, under the assumption that a foreigner is more tolerated when identified as a worker. Methodologically, the work intends to offer a starting point for reflection on the wording of questions on attitudes toward migrants in comparative surveys, by pointing out some limitations of the existent items. Furthermore, the use of experiments in a well-established survey with a high standard in the sampling and in the questionnaire administration allows providing empirical evidence characterized by both a high internal and external validity.