Changing Demographics and Attitudes Toward Immigration Policies

February 7, 2019

In a new paper for a special issue of the Journal of Social Issues, grantees Yuen J. Huo (University of California, Los Angeles), John F. Dovidio (Yale University), Tomás R. Jiménez (Stanford University), and Deborah J. Schildkraut (Tufts University) expand an RSF-supported study on the effects of both hostile and welcoming state-level immigration policies on individuals’ feelings of belonging and their attitudes toward other ethnic groups. 

In a prior article, the authors discussed the results of a 2016 survey that asked respondents to consider proposals for statewide immigration policies that were either welcoming—such as granting social services for noncitizens, bilingual government documents, and state-issued identification cards—or hostile, such as English-only laws, restriction of non-citizens’ access to social services, and employer verification of immigration status. They found that both Latino and white respondents expressed more positive feelings and a greater sense of belonging when they had been primed with the welcoming policy.

The authors’ new paper continues this investigation by examining how the rate of immigration into a given state affects respondents’ attitudes and reactions to either welcoming or hostile immigration policies. They interviewed whites, Latinos, and Asians. As they note, taking into account demographic change in respondents’ states along with respondents’ race helps to offer a more comprehensive perspective on people’s responses to immigration. Their abstract states:

National discourse about immigration in the United States has become increasingly unwelcoming. In two studies, we examine whether regional-level (state) information about welcoming (vs. unwelcoming) immigrant policies in the context of either stable or increasing rate of immigration can influence intergroup relations in receiving communities. Among Whites (Study 1), welcoming policy proposals elicited more positive attitudes toward immigrants generally and toward Latinos, the ethnic group most closely associated with immigration in the United States, but only when rate of immigration is constant. In contrast, among Latinos (Study 2), an unwelcoming reception led to more positive attitudes toward immigrants (legal and undocumented) but again only when rate of immigration is constant. Asians’ attitudes (Study 2) toward immigrants were not affected by contextual information about immigration. Together, these findings suggest that local conditions can affect community members’ attitudes toward immigrants and toward specific ethnic groups associated with immigration.

Read the full paper in the Journal of Social Issues.

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