The 'Number Game:' Sources of Public Support for Anti-Migrant Hostility and Exclusionism in Post-Soviet Russia

Principal Investigators:

A project made possible with major funding of the grant for Research and Writing of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Program on Global Security and Sustainability


Whereas most research on migration attitudes in North America and Europe relates anti-migrant hostility and support for exclusionist policies to migration size, estimates of the latter are themselves, in most cases, a product of contrasting and conflicting interpretations that become politically contested. This study focuses on one aspect of these “number games:” How and why do perceptions of migration scale and trends become predominant in the public opinion within host societies? Why are the numbers exaggerated for some groups of migrants, discounted for others, and excluded from valuation altogether for still other groups? We further ask to what extent and under what conditions these perceptions of scale may translate into public support for exclusionist anti-migrant policies such as forced deportation, economic sanctions, and border closure. Are groups whose numbers are exaggerated necessarily the target of greater public hostility? Or are alarmist exaggerations themselves a consequence of exclusionist anti-migrant policies—some of which may even have been designed to assuage public fears about migration in the first place?

We examine these questions systematically in contemporary Russia with specially designed mass opinion surveys, focused interviews, and aggregate statistical data on migration and ethnic composition. We ask three sets of questions on: (1) public perception of migration scale by ethnic group relative to the size of the majority population and to other migrant groups; (2) valuation of the putative drivers of the “number game,” based on the insights from sociology (group threat and socioeconomic competition), social psychology (intergroup bias), and political science (the interethnic security dilemma); and (3) migration policy preferences, including policies recently introduced by the Russian government (e.g., migration cards); hypothetical exclusionist policies such as wholesale deportation of migrants; and support for anti-migrant militants such as the “Slavic fascists” and the Cossacks.

We anticipate that the study will make a significant contribution to multi-disciplinary research on anti-migrant attitudes and ethnic conflict by “unpacking” the antecedents and consequences of the “number games” about migration. Understanding the number game will contribute to resolving problems of economic, social, and political incorporation of migrants and refugees into receiving societies. By placing the study in carefully selected regions of Russia, we anticipate to generate a reliable assessment of how estimates of migration size emerge, how they may be affected by specific migration policies adopted by each region, and, subsequently, which policies need to be modified to reduce ethnic tensions and enhance interethnic tolerance in Russia. This web site partly serves this effort by offering free public access to the survey data conducted for this project.

Public Opinion Survey: “Migration and Ethnic Relations in the Russian Federation 2005”

Number of respondents: 4,740


Bibliographic reference (use when citing the findings):

Mikhail Alexseev, “Migration and Ethnic Relations in the Russian Federation,” an opinion survey conducted by the Levada-Analytical Center (Moscow) and the Public Opinion Research Laboratory, Institute of History, Archeology, and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East, Russian Academy of Sciences, Far Eastern Branch (Vladivostok) (September-November 2005) (with C. Richard Hofstetter)

Survey Documentation and Data

Project description and oringinal survey materials in Russian are available at our partner web pages at the Center for Regional and Transboundary Studies, Volgograd State University