The Racial Divide on Immigration Opinion: Why Blacks Are Less Threatened by Immigrants
34 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 4 Sep 2010
Date Written: 2010
Explanations for racial gaps in national policy opinion are often complicated by overlapping class/material and identity-based forces. If blacks are more favorable to racial or social welfare policies, it is difficult to know whether their material interests or their identification as a member of an oppressed group causes this difference. The domain of immigration policy offers a unique opportunity to contrast class/material interest versus symbolic politics explanations of the racial gap, since blacks material interests regarding the issue should, on average, push them to be more conservative on the issue than whites, and to be much more reactive to threatening news stories about immigrants. Symbolic politics theory would expect, on the other hand, that blacks might identify with oppressed groups, including immigrants, and therefore take less restrictive or punitive positions on the issue and to be less persuaded by threatening news. We employ ANES survey data and an Internet survey experiment with a national sample of whites and an oversample of blacks. We find that blacks are, in fact, consistently more permissive on immigration than whites across a host of different policies. Second, group attitudes, not material interests drive individual differences in both black and white opinions about immigration. Finally, blacks are much more resistant than whites to negatively framed news stories about the impact of immigration. In general, this pattern of findings strongly supports the notion that immigration opinion is driven by symbolic concerns like group identity, and less by class or individual material interests.
Keywords: immigration, public opinion, race, media
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