Perceptions of Discrimination and the Acquisition of Partisan Identity in Immigrant Communities

Awarded Scholars:
Daniel Hopkins, Georgetown University
Cheryl Kaiser, University of Washington
Efrén O. Peréz, Vanderbilt University
Project Date:
Feb 2014
Award Amount:
Project Programs:

One need only glance at news headlines about immigration to get a sense of how the large influx of the foreign-born to the U.S. in recent decades seems to have unsettled many communities around the country. The increasing presence and diversity of the foreign-born has had a marked effect on our politics, changing the landscape of voters (as well as non-voters) and their alliances, but also the climate of reception for the new actors in the political sphere.

Between the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections, the Democratic candidate received a greater increase in total support from Hispanic voters than from non-Hispanic whites. And in the 2012 presidential election, Latinos and Asian Americans (but especially the foreign-born among them) voted in record numbers – and did so disproportionately for the Democratic candidate. With the overwhelming support of Latino and Asian American voters, President Obama was re-elected, despite receiving less than 40 percent of the non-Hispanic white vote. Thus, in today’s debate about a path to citizenship for the undocumented, it is not surprising that the Republicans seem divided – between those who recognize the need to appeal to the growing Latino electorate and those who would rather prevent the undocumented from turning into voters than try to win their support. Do changing demographics portend a shift in partisan identity and support nationwide, as the Republicans fear? If it does, what role does perceived antagonism and exclusion play in the political socialization and behavior of immigrants and their ethnic kin? And to what extent do the observed shifts represent a reaction to perceived anti-immigrant sentiment?

Political scientists Daniel Hopkins and Efrén Pérez, and social psychologist Cheryl Kaiser—all members of RSF’s Working Group on Immigration and Cultural Contact—want to better understand the conditions under which members of immigrant communities develop partisan attachments. Among native-born Americans, childhood socialization, adolescent experiences, and social identity are thought to be central determinants of partisanship. Findings from observational (i.e., non-experimental) studies suggest that these mechanisms may operate differently among the foreign-born and their foreign-born and native-born children, and their co-ethnics. Hopkins, Kaiser and Pérez posit that discrimination against immigrants may catalyze the development of partisanship among them. They propose a program of research that combines the insights and methods from their respective disciplines to study the links between perceptions of discrimination and the development of political partisanship within immigrant groups.


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