““When we decide how much to redistribute, how progressive the tax should be, the thinking is: I’m putting some weight on everyone in the economy, measuring how much I value $1 given to Dylan, $1 given to Stefanie,” Stantcheva told me, laying out the model. “The weight we put mentally depends on many characteristics of those people: how poor they are, how hard they work, etc.”
Voters often put a lower weight on immigrants’ welfare, which means the more immigrants they think are getting money from the government, the less likely they are to support redistribution overall. But the picture is more complicated than that. Alesina and Stantcheva’s model also assumes that voters put a low weight on “freeloaders”: people they perceive to be cheating the welfare system, as opposed to the “deserving poor,” who are getting benefits they ought to be receiving. If voters think that a higher share of immigrants than natives are freeloaders, that will also reduce support for redistribution.
“Misperceptions and biases against immigrants can interact and reinforce each other,” Alesina and Stantcheva write. “If the bias against immigrants is already high … even a small over-estimation of the share of free-loaders among immigrants can tilt preferences towards less redistribution. Similarly, if the bias against immigrants is high (or if the perceived share of free-loaders is high), even a small overestimation of the share of immigrants can reduce support for redistribution.”
And what their survey work with Armando Miano finds is that these kinds of misperceptions are incredibly common, and especially common among people disposed negatively toward immigration.”