In Our Interest: How to Make Immigration Popular

(book manuscript accepted at Columbia University Press)

In Our Interest examines under what conditions most voters in affluent democracies would accept freer immigration. The book looks beyond the stereotype of xenophobic voters and considers people’s genuine concern for compatriots as a key driver of opposing and supporting immigration. Using extensive cross-national surveys and real-stake experiments, the book reveals most people are “altruistic nationalists”—ready to bear costs for others, yet prioritizing their fellow citizens. Consequently, voters conditionally oppose immigration when seen as a threat and support it if seen as beneficial to their nation.

But the persuasion challenge isn’t just about advocates telling a better story about why immigration is beneficial but also about governments convincingly demonstrating it. Despite immigration opinions being remarkably resistant to information campaigns, my analysis of cross-national and historical data shows that selective pro-immigration reforms can bolster public support. My in-depth comparison of Canada and Sweden, which respectively exemplify pragmatic and humanitarian approaches to immigration, indicates that adopting demonstrably beneficial policies is necessary to make immigration popular.

Pro-immigration advocates often dismiss their counterparts as prejudiced, but to little avail, as borders are mostly closed. The book offers a path forward—meeting voters where they are and enacting pro-immigration reforms prioritizing skilled and otherwise needed immigrants. While immigration cannot become popular in democracies on humanitarian grounds alone, policies showcasing national benefits extend beyond attracting top talent—from filling shortages and boosting regions to facilitating education and reuniting families. Only when voters are confident their government is managing immigration in their interest, can they support pro-immigration policies, including for those fleeing persecution.