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Pricing Immigration

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 June 2020

Simon Hix
Harold Laski Professor of Political Science, Government Department, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK, e-mail:, Twitter: @simonjix
Eric Kaufmann
Professor, Department of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London, London, UK, e-mail:, Twitter: @epkaufm
Thomas J. Leeper
Senior Visiting Fellow in Methodology, Methodology Department, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK, e-mail:, Twitter @thosjleeper


Immigration is highly salient for voters in Europe and the USA and has generated considerable academic debate about the causes of preferences over immigration. This debate centers around the relative influences of sociotropic or personal economic considerations, as well as noneconomic threats. We provide a test of the competing egocentric, sociotropic, and noneconomic paradigms using a novel constrained preference experiment in which respondents are asked to trade off preferred reductions in immigration levels with realistic estimates of the personal or societal costs associated with those reductions. This survey experiment, performed on a national sample of British YouGov panelists, allows us to measure the price-elasticity of the publicʼs preferences with regard to levels of European and non-European immigration. Respondents were willing to admit more immigrants when restriction carries economic costs, with egocentric considerations as important as sociotropic ones. People who voted for the UK to Leave the European Union in the 2016 referendum are less price-elastic than those voting Remain, indicating that noneconomic concerns are also important.1

Research Article
© The Experimental Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2020

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