The Influence of Social Desirability Pressures on Expressed Immigration Attitudes


  • *Direct correspondence to Alexander L. Janus, 410 Barrows Hall, Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-1980 〈〉; website 〈〉. He thanks the following people for providing enormously helpful comments on earlier drafts of this article: several anonymous SSQ reviewers, Brian An, Irene Bloemraad, Claude Fischer, Michael Hout, Samuel R. Lucas, John Levi Martin, and Robb Willer. Janus will share all data and coding information necessary to replicate the study.


Objective. Immigration scholars have found that the highly educated and political liberals are considerably less likely to support restrictionist immigration policies than other groups. I ask whether the influence of social desirability pressures in the survey interview is responsible for this finding.

Methods. An unobtrusive questioning technique known as the list experiment is used to measure Americans' support for immigration restrictionism. The list experiment can easily be embedded in a standard telephone survey and has been used by previous investigators to study racial attitudes.

Results. Restrictionist sentiments are found to be more widespread among the U.S. populace than previous studies have estimated, especially among college graduates and political liberals.

Conclusion. My findings have implications for immigration scholars and social scientists who study other sensitive attitudes and behaviors. The most commonly employed strategies to reduce socially desirable responding may not be enough.