Re-Examining Group-Centrism in American Public Opinion: The Case of Anti-Latino Sentiment and Immigration Policy Attitudes

50 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2017

See all articles by Morris E. Levy

Morris E. Levy

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science

Matthew Wright

American University; American University - School of Public Affairs

Date Written: February 16, 2016

Abstract

Empirical linkages between attitudes toward salient social groups and opinions about public policy issues are commonly taken as evidence that mass opinion is “group-centric.” That is, citizens evaluate policies based on whether favored or disfavored groups are perceived to benefit from them. We argue that this interpretation can be misleading when core values, moral precepts, or pragmatic aims influence both group attitudes and policy preferences alike. In such cases, group attitude-policy opinion linkages are at least partly spurious, and the assumption that considerations of group interest shape and structure policy attitudes may be misplaced. We illustrate this point by drawing on evidence from survey experiments embedded in two original surveys of the California and U.S. publics to examine a seemingly straightforward case of a group-centric relationship – that between non-Hispanic whites’ sentiments toward Latinos and attitudes about illegal immigration policy. We find that modest favoritism toward Europeans and Asians over Latinos reflects respondents’ preference for immigrants who contribute economically and speak English and use of Latino ethnicity as a stereotypical marker of these attributes. Moreover, strong correlations between measures of anti-Latino sentiment and immigration policy opinions emerge because hostility to illegal immigration in general taints attitudes toward Latinos as a group and fosters opposition to legalization. These findings are inconsistent with the group-centric view that whites reject liberal immigration policies because they believe they benefit Latinos. Beyond urging caution about which way the causal arrow points in group attitude-policy opinion links, these conclusions reconcile conflicting findings in the literature on prejudice and immigration policy attitudes.

Keywords: immigration, public opinion, united states, anti-latino bias, ethnocentrism

Suggested Citation

Levy, Morris E. and Wright, Matthew, Re-Examining Group-Centrism in American Public Opinion: The Case of Anti-Latino Sentiment and Immigration Policy Attitudes (February 16, 2016). American University School of Public Affairs Research Paper No. 3022187. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3022187 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3022187

Morris E. Levy

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Matthew Wright (Contact Author)

American University ( email )

4400 Massachusetts Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

American University - School of Public Affairs ( email )

Washington, DC 20016
United States

Here is the Coronavirus
related research on SSRN

Paper statistics

Downloads
37
Abstract Views
323
PlumX Metrics