Re-Examining Group-Centrism in American Public Opinion: The Case of Anti-Latino Sentiment and Immigration Policy Attitudes
50 Pages Posted: 22 Aug 2017
Date Written: February 16, 2016
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
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