Prejudice against immigrants from the European Union was a “major” deciding factor in the Brexit referendum, according to a new study.
But people who actually met foreigners living in Britain tended to have a positive experience and this appears to have helped persuade many people to vote Remain, the researchers found.
The lead researcher of the new study, Dr Rose Meleady, said their findings helped explain an apparently counter-intuitive voting pattern – that areas with low numbers of immigrants were more likely to back Brexit.
“It is the contact that predicts prejudice towards immigrants, and prejudice was a predictor of how people intended to vote,” she said. “Everyday interactions with immigrants are really important. If you have more opportunities for contact, for example on public transport, at the shops, or with neighbours and colleagues, your attitude is likely to be more positive. Fear of immigration can sometimes drive prejudice rather than its reality.” She added, "Of course, interactions can sometimes be unpleasant or unfriendly and this can increase negative feelings, but we find that people report more positive encounters with immigrants than negative.”