Since the first round of the ESS (European Social Survey) in 2002 numerous comparative studies on changing attitudes towards immigrants have been published based on ESS data. The availability of two batteries measuring attitudes towards immigrants in the core module of each biennial survey enabled analysis of stability and change of these attitudes in Europe over the whole period 2002–2014. In these studies, variation can be studied from at least two perspectives, namely as differences between countries and/or as change over time.
An exploration of published studies that used ESS data to study attitudes towards immigrants in Europe demonstrates that one can distinguish between five different research designs using the following criteria: the number of countries involved; inclusion of a time factor; treatment of context variables in the data analysed; inclusion of cross-level interactions; combination of cross-national and cross-temporal perspectives in the study of change. These designs are explained and illustrated with typical examples of analyses of ESS data.
A dynamic version of the Group Conflict Theory (GCT) is the main theoretical background of these studies. Negative outgroup sentiments are seen as defensive reactions to perceived intergroup competition for scarce goods. After some theoretical reflections on this perspective, the main findings of our own studies are briefly presented and discussed.