British Journal of Political Science


Easing the Heavy Hand: Humanitarian Concern, Empathy, and Opinion on Immigration

Benjamin J. Newman, Todd K. Hartman, Patrick L. Lown and Stanley Feldman *


The bulk of the public opinion research on immigration identifies the factors leading to opposition to immigration. In contrast, we focus on a previously unexplored factor yielding support for immigration: humanitarianism. Relying upon secondary analysis of national public opinion survey data and an original survey experiment, we demonstrate that humanitarian concern significantly decreases support for restrictive immigration policy. Results from our survey experiment demonstrate that in an information environment evoking both threat and countervailing humanitarian concern regarding immigration, the latter can and does override the former. Last, our results point to the importance of individual differences in empathy in moderating the effects of both threat and humanitarian inducements.

(Online publication November 26 2013)


*  Newman: Department of Political Science, University of Connecticut; Hartman: Department of Government & Justice Studies, Appalachian State University; Lown and Feldman: Department of Political Science, Stony Brook University (emails,,, An online appendix with supplementary materials is available at