There is important variation in beliefs about immigration within the publics of immigrant‐receiving societies but empirical social research has largely overlooked it. The “imagined immigration” concept aims to bring these beliefs back in as an important component of public attitudes toward immigrants. It also offers a new perspective on the political conflict around immigration that persists despite the consensus on desired qualities of potential immigrants among citizens in industrial democracies.
I review the imagined immigration concept and present new empirical evidence in its favor using original survey studies in the United States and Britain.
I describe respondents’ beliefs about immigrants, demonstrate their association with partisanship, and confirm that these beliefs are significantly related to perceptions of immigration as harmful—even when controlled for partisanship, ideology, and ethnocentrism.
I corroborate the foundations of the imagined immigration concept and discuss its promise and limitations.