Biden is abruptly shifting immigration and refugee policies from Trump, facing new blowback. Are public views rooted in anti-Latino racism or a broader American ethos? Mark Ramirez finds that anti-Latino attitudes are pervasive because Latinos are stereotyped as not living up to American values; these attitudes predict policy opinions and helped elect Donald Trump. But Matthew Wright finds Americans’ mixed immigration attitudes are built on norms of assimilation and the rule of law. Providing counter-stereotypical information can reduce prejudices’ role in opinions. They both say anti-immigration opinions combine prejudices and values because immigrants are stereotyped as inconsistent with assimilation and legality.
Matt Grossmann: Values and racism in American immigration views this week on the Science of Politics. From the Niskanen Center, I’m Matt Grossmann.
The abrupt shift in immigration and refugee policies from the Trump to the Biden administration continues Americans’ increasing division, especially on policy at the southern border. Are public views rooted in an anti-Latino racism or a broader American ethos? They may now be fused too much to disentangle. Anti-immigration opinions combine prejudices and values because Latinos are stereotyped as inconsistent with assimilation and legality.
This week, I talked to Mark Ramirez of Arizona State University about his Cambridge book with David Peterson, Ignored Racism: White Animus Toward Latinos. He finds that anti-Latino attitudes are pervasive in the United States because Latinos are stereotyped as not living up to American values. These combined attitudes predict policy opinions and helped pave the way for Donald Trump.
I also talked to Matthew Wright of the University of British Columbia about his new Cambridge book with Morris Levy, Immigration and American Ethos. He finds Americans’ mixed immigration attitudes are built on norms of assimilation and the rule of law. By providing counterstereotypical or equalizing information across immigrant groups, we can reduce prejudice’s role in opinions. Ramirez finds that anti-Latino racism matters a lot for American politics, for immigration and beyond.
Mark Ramirez: The major takeaway is that there exists a unique belief system in the minds of some Americans that we like to call Latino racism/ethnicism. It’s racism in that it’s partly based on the misperception of Latinos as a non-White racial outgroup, so there’s an effective component to it, and ethnicitism in that it also targets cultural and ethnic-based behaviors that people associate with Latinos. So there’s a strong cognitive component to this belief system, too.
It’s basically a belief that Latinos fail to adhere to Anglo-American norms. That is that they cannot or they do not act in ways that are preferable to some White Americans and that their race and ethnicity, which are often conflated by people … And even Latinos sometimes, often we conflate our race and ethnicity too, if you look at the Pew studies, but these things permanently regulate Latinos as outsiders for some Americans who hold this belief, and people see Latinos as outsiders who lack agency, our willingness to act in some prototypical American fashion, which usually means White American.
And so, not all Americans subscribe to this belief, but some do. For those that do subscribe to this belief, this Latino racism/ethicism, has fairly important consequences for American politics. We typically think that anti-Latino beliefs play some role in public preferences on debates like immigration, and we find support for that in the book. But we also find support that anti-Latino beliefs, and specifically this Latino racism/ethnicism, relates to people’s preferences on policies ranging from should police wear body cameras to issues like punitive sentencing and voting rights.
It’s also become an important factor in how people choose elected officials. So many of the important issues being debated at the moment are partly rooted in how people perceive the Latino population. Immigration is the most visible of these debates, but our book shows that it’s not the only one. I think that’s the big takeaway is the broader consequences of beliefs about Latinos for policies beyond immigration.
Matt Grossmann: Wright finds that Americans have mixed attitudes about immigration and immigrants.
Matthew Wright: First thing is that Americans bring a lot more nuance to their attitudes about immigration than most people would appreciate. People are pro-immigrant in some ways and anti-immigrant in others. It doesn’t all just boil down to us versus them or insiders and outsiders.
The second thing was a lot of this nuance is explained by people’s understandings of the values that they think define their political community. So in short, our story is that people have a certain way of thinking about what they think immigrants owe America and what America owes them in return, and that ends up guiding a lot of their thinking.
The third thing is that a lot of the patterns and prejudices that we see in attitudes about immigration are actually better explained by these values that we referenced than they are by the common assumption that it’s deeply rooted racism and White supremacy and things of that kind.
Matt Grossmann: And norms and values have important implications for immigration views.
Matthew Wright: When we speak about norms to do with the simulation, we mean the rules that people think define the political community. These can be formal rules or norms, like if somebody thinks that immigrants ought to immigrate legally and that illegal immigrants lack legitimacy. It can also be in formal beliefs about assimilation, that immigrants ought to learn English when they get here and things of that kind.
We also talk about egalitarianism as a value that Americans bring to bear quite sharply on immigration attitudes. And we bring in humanitarianism as another consideration. Humanitarianism usually softens the negative judgments that people make based on values. That’s usually its role.
The values themselves, all the things I’ve mentioned are if not universal, they’re endorsed by large majorities of Americans. Some of that depends on measurement, like how are you going to measure norms about formal assimilation, or how are you going to measure egalitarianism?
But it’d be pretty hard to find a sample of Americans that didn’t support, for example, the importance of obeying laws or speaking English to get by or things like that, helping people in need. However you ask the question, you’re going to find broad support for all of these kinds of things.
What they boil down to essentially is just simple rules that people apply either consciously or subconsciously when they make decisions about whether or not to support a policy or whether or not a particular immigrant or a group of immigrants deserves to benefit from a policy. So it’s kind of a heuristic or a snap judgment based on a well-ingrained rule.
In most cases, the kinds of values we talk about are double-edged, which is to say that they might lead people to be inclusive in some contexts and exclusive in others. It’s not that thinking about values pushes people in one direction all the time. It can work both ways. The exception is humanitarianism, which is pretty much always in our story construed as a pro-immigrant factor.
Matt Grossmann: Ramirez and Peterson created a new scale to address problems with prior measures of Latino stereotypes.
Mark Ramirez: We started the development of the scale by examining focus group data. This led us through the formulation of these survey questions that we felt captured the most commonly expressed beliefs about Latinos. Then from there, we parsed down a list of different questions to four that are in the book that seemed to capture the most dominant dimensions of this belief system, as well as had the best measurement properties from a psychometric perspective.
And so, one of the questions is the Irish, Italians, Jews, and many other ethnic groups immigrated to the United States legally. Latinos and Hispanic should do the same without any special favors. And so, this captures a comment that we saw pretty frequently in the focus group data that people would reference their ancestors and how their ancestors from these other ethnic groups migrated to the United States legally, how they came through Ellis Island and did everything right and how Latinos should do the same.
Another question is Latinos and Hispanics would be more welcomed in the United States if they would try harder to learn English and adopt US customs like past immigrant groups have done. This really gets at the lack of simulation belief and particularly the lack of trying to learn English, which seems really off-putting to a lot of Whites in the focus group data.
Other questions capture the belief in Latino criminality and the belief of Latino agency, that Latinos choose these paths as opposed to being constrained into some of these paths by discriminatory institutions.
The statements as a whole were designed to capture the most common beliefs expressed by the focus groups that tended to mirror the historical depictions that we saw of Latinos. We really wanted to meet the public where they are rather than impose our own ideas about what these belief systems entail.
Of course, what you get from the measures is that there is this conflation between anti-Latino sentiment with different behaviors. But that’s what we think is the nature of the belief system in the population. It doesn’t exist, or rarely exists, in a pure biological racism form or a pure negative affect form. People express their beliefs about Latinos in language that references various behaviors, and our measurement reflects that.
I think equally important are some of the beliefs that we did not include in the measure. We didn’t find too many focus group participants discussing Latinos as a burden on social welfare systems or in terms of job competition. Those comments were there, but just not very frequently. When we included items like that in the measure, they didn’t coalesce with these other questions either.
Matt Grossmann: He says somewhat pervasive beliefs expect Latino criminality and lack of assimilation.
Mark Ramirez: The most common anti-Latino attitudes tend to conflate anti-Latino sentiment or affect with cognitive beliefs about Latino behavior, these beliefs that Latinos failed to immigrate properly, that Latinos prefer to remain insulated in their own communities, which is often expressed as an aversion to Spanish language use, beliefs about Latino criminality, that Latinos are drug dealers and gang members and prone to criminal behavior.
This also ties into the idea of undocumented migrants being illegal, as well as things like Latinos using fake documents to secure jobs or fake driver’s license. We see a lot of that in how people talk about Latino criminality. Then there’s a widespread belief that Latinos are willing agents of all of this, that their behaviors and place in American society has very little to do with institutions and discrimination.
The central theme of all these different components is that Latinos are unable or unwilling to assimilate into Anglo-American norms in society, that they are alien outsiders who, by their own accord, don’t want to fit in. So for people who hold this belief, the natural response is to shut Latinos out of the social, political, and economic systems.
We find that these beliefs tend to be fairly pervasive. Our focus group analysis shows that these beliefs manifest themselves in conversations about Latinos, in conversations that have nothing to do with politics. So in how people describe Latinos they encounter at Walmart or in a downtown neighborhood. They’re talking about Latinos in the way that we connect to Latino racism/ethnicism.
In our survey data, we find that between 37% and 58% of Americans hold this belief, and it’s hard to tell what in this range of these estimates is more or less accurate, which are due to different time periods in which we conducted the study, because we conducted the study from 2014, I think, to 2016. 2018 was our last survey.
So it’s hard to tell which of these estimates are due to … The differences of the estimates, if they’re due to different time periods, if they’re due to different sampling frames, or different choices in the questions we used for the different surveys.
But even the lower bound estimate of 37% shows that more Americans hold this belief than they do the typical measures of anti-Latino sentiment, such as the stereotype measures or the social distance measures. So it tends to be pretty pervasive, but I don’t think a majority of Americans hold this belief fairly strongly.
Matt Grossmann: But even if these attitudes are linked in real life, Wright and Levy used survey experiments to break things apart.
Matthew Wright: The strength of survey experiments is that they allow us to make convincing causal arguments, and in particular that they allow us to discriminate between competing explanations for some underlying pattern. A pretty easy example … one that we’ve been talking about, is whether or not, like law and order rhetoric, if it comes out of somebody who’s running for office, should be taken at face value, or whether it’s simply a cloak that allows people to mask that they’re essentially anti-Latino or white supremacists or whatever, and they’re just sort of putting it behind a more socially acceptable guise.
So a lot of the experiments that we designed, including conjoints and vignettes and all that kind of stuff, are aimed exactly at sort of disentangling those things. So usually, what we want to do is we want to separate the influences of race and ethnicity on the one hand and sort of racial identity to the extent that we can, and separate that from the sort of elements of context that we think are more closely tied to values. And to the degree that one’s persuaded by our fair mental designs, then you can actually tell a pretty good story about that.
The downside is, as you’re sort of suggesting, is that we have a pretty limited view from survey experimental into actual behavior. There is a certain artificiality in breaking things apart that are in real life, sort of out there in the world tied together.
That said, to the degree that… I mean, there’s a couple of things, right? One is this is the state-of-the-art in the discipline when we look at political psychology. I mean, the state-of-the-art is experiments, and people have made the case for whatever their view is of immigration policy using surveys and using experiments for years and years. So we’re no different in that respect. We’re just thinking about things maybe a little bit differently.
The other thing is, to the extent that real life, events in real life or the way elections unfold or whatever seems to mimic the things that our experiments are teasing out, that can sort of increase our confidence that they’re telling us something real. So outside of the book, Morris and I have talked a lot about the relationship between public opinion writ large and immigration policy, and among other things, the failure of immigration reform, sort of comprehensive immigration reform. And a lot of that is part of a story that’s consistent with value stakes.
And so, you can show that in a little survey experiment and then look out in the real world and say, “Well, this is also happening at the same time and it’s also consistent to the same story,” then that sort of gives us a little bit of added confidence.
Matt Grossmann: Wright says the scales combine ideology and racial cues that can be separated.
Matthew Wright: Not just this particular variant of the symbolic racism version, or like a Latino specific version, but all sort of symbolic racism scales have ideological content by design, right? They’re sort of judgements that, as you say, a particular ethnic group is not living up to whatever values everyone else has or should have. I don’t think anybody would disagree, including us, that endorsing a series of views tied to symbolic racism against Latinos, for example, saying that Latinos haven’t worked as hard to assimilate or succeed as Irish or Italian or previous immigrant groups did, the idea that agreeing with that would be correlated with support for Trump and restrictive immigration policy or even support for Republicans, I mean, we don’t disagree with that.
The question is, and you’re right, I mean, it all kinds of goes out in the discourse, but again, the question is whether or not it’s the values that are driving these attitudes or whether or not it’s the racism.
So in the original sort of Sears and Sears/Kinder version of this, I mean, symbolic racism was essentially racism with a prettier face. And that’s one way of interpreting these items, but it’s not the only way to interpret these items. There are different ways. Another way of interpreting these items is that really, it’s the ideology that’s doing most of the work and not the sort of racial cue. And so it’s important to understand, to us anyway, it’s important for us to understand the difference and what’s actually doing the work.
And so our argument in the book whenever we touch on this, is that the ideological content of these items is really the key driver. And the evidence for us is, well, two things, right? One is that the values seem to matter in isolation. Either when you control for race in an experiment, or you leave it out, you standardize it or whatever, you eliminate the influence of race by design. The values matter in and of themselves, so egalitarianism, proceduralism, legalism, all the stuff we talk about.
The other thing is that people seem to apply values considerations the way we define them similarly onto Latinos as they do to other groups of hypothetical immigrants, whites, Europeans, Chinese, what have you. And so the inference from that is, well, if symbolic racism is really about sort of singling out an ethnic group for not living up to some code that we’ve imposed on it, some hypothetical code that we’ve imposed on everyone, well, then you would expect to see people use those values differentially against that ethnic group. And we don’t see any of that in the data that we look at.
So for us, I mean, it’s true that you might want to just look at a symbolic resentment scale and walk away and say, “Well, that’s what discourse is, right?” And to the degree that people endorsing these views are also anti-immigrant, well, that’s all she wrote, right? But it’s also, I mean, for us, it’s as or more important to sort of figure out, well, what’s really driving this, right? What’s the relationship? Is it really because people are deep down racist against Latinos, or is it really because they have a particular set of values that they applied? And so we kind of lean in the latter direction.
Matt Grossmann: [inaudible 00:17:11] says the new scale draws from commonalities in anti-Black and anti-Latino attitudes, but it’s different from symbolic racism.
Mark Ramirez: There are lots of similarities between the experiences of Blacks and Latinos. Both were lynched at high rates, both experienced segregated schools, there were Mexican schools in Southern California, segregated public facilities, and the expressions of animus, as well the beliefs that anchor those expressions I think are rooted in a natural tendency of people to engage in self-categorization, which leads to in-group favoritism and out-group hostility.
So whenever we’re looking at animus towards the different racial ethnic groups, I think there is a commonality. And often those narratives, I think narratives of say Latinos being aggressive, Latino criminality, there’s also that narrative of Black Americans being aggressive and Black criminality.
So there are definitely common roots, but perhaps surprisingly is I don’t see a strong connection between racial resentment and the concept of Latino racism ethnicism theoretically. First, we don’t ruin our argument in any sense that Latina racism, ethnicism is a new or cohort form of animus, which is a big part of the racial resentment literature. We find traces of it throughout history, and I think it’s fairly explicit in what it is. When I hear someone say Latinos should speak English, to me that’s a clear expression of a cultural ethnic preference, which we think about in terms of ethnicism.
So we don’t have that aspect to our argument at the theoretical level. Now, that could just be perspective in that I’m writing and living in a time where we recognize different racial tropes in language in a different light than the authors of the racial resentment measure and similar scales, but we also find the content is a bit different. It’s not just about negative affect hidden in the language of individualism or equality. It’s about a lack of assimilation and fitting in.
Empirically, we end up with very similar worded measures for two reasons. First, and this is just what came out of the focus group data and we document some of that in the book. And so when we heard people, when we write about people who were talking about Latino immigration in relation to the immigration of these other groups, the racial resentment scale question that’s very similar on this just naturally kind of popped into our mind of, “Wow, this is very similar to this.” And so it was a natural place for us to sort of start building the measure.
And once we did that, I think I stuck to modifying the content of some of the other racial resentment questions. Because I’m a bit risk averse in research, I like to stick to things that are already familiar to people. And it also allowed us to sort of think about the criticisms. We kind of knew what the criticism of the racial resentment scale have been over the years, and so we were able to sort of try to address some of those things head on, which made the process I think a little easier for us.
And then the third reason, I talk about being risk averse, the racial resentment scale, for all of its criticism, it’s still the predominant measure of racial prejudice used in a lot of research. So for good or bad, there’s a lot of value in that measure for scholars. And so for us, it seemed like a safe fleet to sort of modify those questions with the content that we were discovering, rather than try to come up with something completely new.
The two skills are correlated pretty highly. I think it’s like 0.6 in the 2014 CCS data. And they do actually form a common latent factor that is distinct from other measures like stereotypes, ethnocentrism. Unfortunately we don’t really have data that compares both scales with all their items. I think we have, in 2014, a two item racial resentment scale and four items of the Latino racism ethnicism scale, and I think that’s the best we have in the data we collected.
Despite the similarities, we do find that they relate to different political outcomes in theoretically predictable ways. And we think that’s pretty important.
We also conducted a lot of discriminant validity tests that don’t get a lot of attention in the book, but I think are really important as well. Latino racism, ethnicism doesn’t correlate with things like the size and scope of government policies, which suggests our measure isn’t simply a confound for ideological principles, left-right debates. It doesn’t pick up opposition or doesn’t correlate with opposition to gay rights or formative action. So that suggests it’s not simply a proxy for ethnocentrism or out-group hostility, and it’s not merely a substitute for racial resentment, which we know predicts things like support for policies such as affirmative action.
So those small changes in content in the question wording actually do matter for prediction or correlation.
Matt Grossmann: They’re new explanation for immigration attitudes integrates these anti-Latino beliefs.
Mark Ramirez: The existing explanations tend to focus on different variations of realistic group conflict theory, people coming in contact with immigrants in various ways, cultural preferences, that people just simply oppose the culture and customs of Latinos. And there is a literature of racial animus and negative affect towards Latinos, typically measured with a hundred point thermometer [inaudible 00:22:26] scale. Do you feel warm or cold towards Latinos?
And we don’t have any issues with any of these theories. We just thought that maybe they were sort of underestimating the effect of white animus towards Latinos, and that if we had a measure that actually captured how white Americans actually think about Latinos, what that belief system is, then we would get a better sense of how important it is in immigration policy preferences.
And we do find that it does tend to be more important than sort of negative stereotypes, different measures of realistic group conflict theory, such as like percentage [inaudible 00:23:06] county, change of the Latino population or, in some models that I don’t think were reported in the book, we used the segregation index to see if the mixture of white versus Latinos in different neighborhoods or different counties was having an effect. We didn’t find any indication that economic perceptions were shaping immigration policy preferences, which is another theory about immigrants and Latino immigrants threatening American jobs, sort of that line of research.
Matt Grossmann: [inaudible 00:23:36] sees benefits to conflating broad views and anti-Latino attitudes.
Mark Ramirez: We are replicating the debates of symbolic racism for good or bad in our research, but for a long time, I sort of felt like I was very much in the camp of trying to parse things out. And I think I came around the other direction, partly just seeing how much utility other people are getting from symbolic racism or racial resentment scales. And-
… people are getting from symbolic racism and racial resentment scales and how useful it is in different contexts. And I think if this is the way, from our perspective, if this is the way that people are talking about Latinos, if this is the way that they’re commonly expressing it, then it goes back to the comment I made earlier of trying to meet people where they’re at. But I do think that there are probably research questions where you will want to parse these things out and look at them, the individual components. But measurement of racial attitudes is really hard. You’re either sort of conflating things like we are, or you are probably underestimating and suffering social desirability bias issues. So it’s kind of take your pick of what’s your poison.
Matt Grossmann: He says you can change people’s beliefs about particular people, but that might not change embedded stereotypes.
Mark Ramirez: First, we did find evidence that cultural preferences do matter. The degree that Latinos assimilate or don’t assimilate, it does matter, but it doesn’t take away the role of racism in our study. In terms of providing sort of counter stereotypical information or different equalizing information, I think those things matter at least in single shot experiments, right? And in short-term thinking.
I mean, looking at the broader literature on sort of counter stereotypical information, we do see things like people that watched the Cosby Show in the 80s had more friendlier beliefs about black families immediately after watching that show. My reading of that literature is that it tends to be pretty contained, right? So your beliefs about the [inaudible 00:25:38] as a family might have changed from watching the Cosby Show, but your overall beliefs about blacks in general didn’t really change.
And that counter stereotypical information might have an immediate effect and an effect usually on sort of the person that’s being depicted, but doesn’t necessarily change the broader stereotype, outside of that experimental context. And I think this is just the shortcoming of the experimental studies that we usually run, stuff that I usually do, which are just like the single shot experiments within a survey or our lab. Right? And so I don’t really know how convinced I am that counter stereotypical information can really reduce racism in the long run. I think we need better studies, more field experiments that test the long range effects to really get at that. So I’m, I think, undecided at this point.
Matt Grossmann: Wright says, “Prejudice is clear, but it may be due to misperception rather than animus.”
Matthew Wright: It really depends on what we want to say is racism. So certainly, if you simply believe stereotypes like this, a negative representation of a group, say that Latinos are lazy or whatever. One could quite reasonably construe that as anti-Latino racism full stop, right? From a certain point of view. And I don’t really have anything to dispute, right? I mean, because it’s a definitional or a conceptual issue. If that’s racism, fine. So be it.
What we’re more interested in is what’s underlying that prejudice. Is that prejudice tied to some kind of real animus to an ethnic group? Or is it driven by assumptions about that group’s behavior and whether or not that group is supposedly in violation of a norm? So if it’s the latter, then it’s still prejudice in the big picture sense, right? You don’t want necessarily a whole lot of Americans going around with this sort of false assumption that Latinos are lazier than whites, obviously, but it’s probably not racism in the sense that it’s driven by the desire to keep Latinos subordinate to whites or to maintain white supremacy or any of those things that are often attributed to white Americans’ preferences.
Matt Grossmann: Americans still make distinctions based on legality.
Matthew Wright: It’s a strong and meaningful distinction in the American context. And essentially unsurprisingly, it always tends to favor legal immigrants over illegal ones. So people will always when offered anything like a sort of pound for pound comparison, they’ll always favor the legal immigrant over the undocumented immigrant. And mainly, I mean, I don’t think anybody disagrees that at the mass level, that this is a thing that we have to reckon with. I think the sort of disagreement is about why. And so, people on the other on the other side of the debate, from where we are tend to say that this is because people, when they think about illegal immigrants, they are particularly attuned to thinking about Latinos and they have this underlying animus towards Latinos.
And as a result, they are going to be especially hostile towards illegal immigration because of stereotyping and enforcing a stereotype. Our story’s a little bit different. We tend to think that the legal-illegal distinction matters in and of itself and that illegal immigrants are sort of disfavored over legal ones, precisely because they’ve violated a widely held norm tied to formal assimilation.
Matt Grossmann: And Americans are more pro-immigration in specific terms than general terms.
Matthew Wright: I don’t think there are huge differences in the aggregate between support for a family reunification policy versus a skills-based policy versus refugees. Our story is that they all tend to be more popular than just talking about immigration in the abstract. And the reason for that is that they all sort of cue things that people care about in this sort of value language that we’ve been talking about. So if you talk about reuniting families, then that sort of makes people feel like it’s sort of the right thing to do on humanitarian grounds. Or if you talk about skills-based immigration, again, if the contrast is just talking about, should we have more or fewer immigrants, if you say instead that, well, what do you think about admitting immigrants that American employers say they need, or some argument like that, then that queues considerations about work ethic and those sorts of things.
Refugees too, it’s a similar case, right? Where you could say, would you rather have more or fewer immigrants, that’s one thing. But then if you add the sort of proviso that you’re accepting people, because they’re being persecuted in their home country, or they’re at the whim of a dictator or something like that, that cues a lot of humanitarian sentiment, which makes people more likely to want to accept them.
Matt Grossmann: Wright says stereotypes are important because they implicate values.
Matthew Wright: Stereotypes are deeply important to our story and most stories in the literature. So essentially, it’s not our innovation to sort of talk about how Latinos are commonly used and known for a long time. They’re commonly stereotyped as lazy. In a more general sense, they’re stereotyped as being less willing to assimilate culturally. We don’t use the word culture so much. We use functional assimilation as a kind of a slightly more neutral sounding word. But the idea is that Latinos don’t work as hard. They don’t want to learn English. Often, they’re stereotyped to be in the country illegally.
So all of these stereotypes are out there. They interact with values in our story because to the degree that they’re believed, all of them violate from the standpoint of most Americans anyway, they violate some norm of fairness or assimilation.
So if you think for example, that Latinos are more likely to violate some norm that’s important to you, you’re less likely to favor a policy that you understand would benefit them. So the good news is… The stereotypes are out there, right? The good news is that if you counter the stereotypes with reassuring information, or countering information, people seem to be willing in our studies at least to update their policy preferences accordingly. So if you present them with a Hispanic immigrant who speaks English and has a job, people will respond to that by sort of being less hostile to that person getting some kind of a benefit, like a pathway to citizenship, for example.
So that’s important to us because not because it means that the stereotype isn’t there, right? But that means that it’s sort of malleable, which is a sign it’s responsive to information, which is evidence to us that it’s not sort of rooted in some kind of deeply rooted dislike of Latinos per se, which would be a very different story. If people didn’t respond when you corrected them and they maintain their hostility towards that group or that individual or whatever, that would be something more consistent with what we view as sort of like standard racism.
Matt Grossmann: They both agree that political context is key. Ramirez says their measure was important in understanding voting for Trump.
Mark Ramirez: We find that they’re a strong part of the rise of Donald Trump. When we compared his support pre-election as well as post election vote choice in comparison with other sort of racial attitudes, beliefs about say Muslim Americans, it was really these beliefs about Latinos, this Latino racist mythicism that we found correlated with his support much more than the other beliefs. And I think that’s partly in my sense, he didn’t play that up as much in 2020. And so I suspect that might have hurt his support in some ways.
Matt Grossmann: But he does see prospects for change with new leaders.
Mark Ramirez: Our book is really observational and the conclusions are really dependent on a lot of correlations. And even when we do run experiments, those turn to correlational analysis, because we never make an attempt to sort of manipulate Latino mythicism. And so, I mean, on one hand, it seems safe to say that given the historical stickiness of Latino racism mythicism, it’s likely that these beliefs remain sort of in the backdrop of people’s minds and the common narratives of Latinos, but whether or not they’re made salient really depends on the information environment.
And when we see information environments that tend to be maybe adversely overly harsh towards Latinos, then people tend to back away. And there’s maybe this sense of humanity that sort of overcomes these beliefs. But then when we’re in a period, like I think today, we’re starting to see a crisis or build up at the border, the inability to sort of process the immigrants that are coming through, this can be turned by anti-immigrant proponents in a very negative way, right? In a way that leads to sort of fear and moral panics that could increase beliefs in Latina racism mythicism.
Matt Grossmann: Wright says politicians can mobilize anti-immigrant sentiment or values.
Matthew Wright: I could imagine a world where either a moderate Republican politician comes back using values-based language, but doesn’t have the same sort of baggage attached as Trump. I guess the way I would think about it is that one way of imagining the politics of immigration is that political elites and would-be political elites see some kind of deeper resentment in the population. And they use that to catapult themselves to office. I think that’s a pretty common view of Trump, for example, right? But another view is, well, they are the entrepreneurs, right? It’s not necessarily the case that there’s this seething anti-immigrant sentiment, that a lot of it has to do with sort of political entrepreneurship. Now, again, joining you in the spirit of nihilism. I mean, it’s hard to imagine at this juncture, right? A point where we all just put that behind us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the right set of politicians and right debate couldn’t do that. And certainly, I think the mass public would respond favorably to it.
Matt Grossmann: Trump took up-front racism to a new level, but that doesn’t mean it was the best way.
Matthew Wright: From the start, I think Trump used rhetoric about immigrants and immigration. I mean, on the one hand, this is stuff that’s been part of the Republican playbook for decades. Right? I mean, we’ve known this, that since the origins of the Southern strategy, especially Republicans have spoken about law and order as a way to sort of mask some of the more… The uglier stuff. Right? And Trump kind of dispensed with the mask. Right? And he was like, okay, well, law and order. And also all the negative language about Latinos and Muslims and so on. So for sure, that’s true. As I’ve said, like the reason why that rhetoric works is that when somebody talks about law and order, especially a Republican talks about law and order, it resonates both with the more explicitly-
… especially a Republican talks about law and order, it resonates both with the more explicitly racist elements of that party’s base, but also with people who care about law and order but aren’t especially racist in their own outlook. So Trump did that more outspokenly than any other previous major party presidential candidate, without a doubt. But on the other hand, I’m not sure that he really needed to do that, and I’m not really sure that he may have actually done better both in 2016 and 2020 if he tamped it down a bit.
I mean, I don’t know if that’s the case, but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s self-evident that on balance, his explicitly racist rhetoric helped him. I mean, conceivably a less outwardly bigoted Trump may not have fired up his base quite as much, but on the other hand, he may have alienated far fewer minorities and college-educated whites and suburbanites and all these other groups that were against him to begin with and then swung more against him in 2020.
Matt Grossmann: In fact, immigration opinions are liberalizing, in part due to values.
Matthew Wright: Our trend data is not perfect because we only really started asking a lot of immigration policy questions in the ’90s. Before that you had a trend item on desired level of immigration that went back to 1965 but virtually nothing else. Gallup would ask it every once in a while. Essentially, there’s been a lot of evidence coming out pointing to the American public turning on the whole, somewhat in a more sort of pro-immigrant direction over the years. I think part of it is a reaction to Trump, a backlash to the backlash, but it’s been going on longer than that.
I think that on the one hand it’s fair to say that the kinds of values that we talk about in our book have been embedded in American political culture for a long time, but in the more recent past, we’re starting to put together evidence that shows that most of this shift in the liberalizing direction has been among Democrats, and that essentially Democrats have, more than others, but especially Democrats have taken on more egalitarian views in the years since 2012, so well before Trump.
But if you look back at the American national election studies and all these questions on, not just on immigration, but on other issues as well, race issues and whatever is you’re mentioning, Democrats especially are moving in a liberalizing, a more liberal direction. The other thing that we’ve noticed is that the strength of the correlation between the standard ANES, the new American National Election Study, egalitarian as a measure and immigration policy attitudes has grown substantially between 2012 and 2016, which is into the era where Trump was president.
We’ll see if this persists into 2020, but we’re seeing evidence that, let’s just say that it certainly seems to be the case that egalitarianism is one of the values that we highlight has become a lot more closely associated with immigration attitudes than it was before, and it may continue to go in that direction. I think it’s probably the case that some amount of this movement is thermostatic in the big picture sense. There was an era of strong hostility in immigration and especially illegal immigration, again, minding this imperfect measures that we had back then.
But in the ’90s, that was basically the peak of welfare reform and all that sort of stuff. Probably post 9-11 there was some apprehension, but in the past 10, 15 years there’s been this very slow move back towards a pro-immigrant orientation. I don’t know when it ends. I don’t know if it keeps going on forever. Somehow I doubt it, but certainly, I mean, it does seem to be the case that more of this is being driven by… As the population becomes more egalitarian in a broad sense, then we’re going to see more pro-immigrant views carrying the day.
The only thing I would add to that, essentially, is that it’s not necessarily the case that racial attitudes or anti-Latino sentiment or whatever is less important than it used to be. It’s consistently important over the years, but the role of values seems to have grown noticeably.
Matt Grossmann: They also agree that the combination of views might not just explain white attitudes. Wright says values matter across racial lines.
Matthew Wright: To be sure, let’s start with a proviso that most Latinos still favor Democrats, and as we all know, Latinos are heterogonous group. So I don’t want to be accused of trying to over-generalize or paint the wrong picture. We understand that, right? Now, on the other hand, a lot of the talk is you’re saying, especially after 2020 was about marginal shifts among Latinos and blacks, because these shifts really matter when it comes to winning close elections. And what’s been telling in a lot of this commentary has been all the values language that we’ve seen ascribed to Latino’s aggregate defection to Trump, however you want to characterize it.
So Cubans and Venezuelans, for example, are said to be allergic to socialism, or we’ve also heard a lot of talk that these kinds of groups have fears about crime and disorder and such, and that these have increased wariness about Democrats and Democrats putative willingness to defend the police. I’m weakly paraphrasing, I think, David Shore’s argument basically, but this storyline is fully compatible with the idea that certain kinds of bedrock values matter across racial lines and that we’re not setting out to explain whites attitudes.
We’re setting out to explain American’s attitudes. We argue in the book, albeit sort of based on fairly limited data, that there’s no reason to believe that blacks and Latinos aren’t using these same sorts of considerations to judge immigrants and immigration.
Matt Grossmann: And Ramirez says some racial minorities might also hold similar attitudes.
Mark Ramirez: We didn’t do any systematic measurement of Latinos with this scale. But I would imagine it’s pretty likely that many Latinos do endorse this, and we do see this historically. For instance, in the 1950s, LULAC, which is this pro-Latino advocacy organization, they were very much involved in this separation of who’s a good, proper immigrant and who’s the bad, improper immigrant. They engaged in this differentiation of, “We’re here as Latino immigrants who migrated the correct way, and we deserve to be here. We deserve to be part of white, Anglo-American society, and these new immigrants don’t deserve that. They’re, they’re doing it all wrong.”
So we definitely see that historically, and I think we see that today with many Latinos in their support for Trump and their support for harsher immigration policies. Part of this is a desire to become a part of the white ingroup, the white dominant ingroup. So that’s pretty natural. I think you see it a lot of times in different psych experiments of ingroup/outgroup dynamics but also historically.
Matt Grossmann: So where do we go from here? Wright is moving to think about how leaders mobilize latent values and link them to policy.
Matthew Wright: I think both things happen. It’s hard to know who’s the leader and who’s the follower. I mean, Morris and I have talked about this, and I’m probably not going to represent his position in all this as much as well as I could. But generally speaking, I think we agree that this is a leader-driven thing. I think that the values that people have are kind of latent in people’s minds, and a lot of whether and how they get mobilized and linked to various immigration policy controversies is precisely an elite rhetoric.
By the way, I don’t think that’s an uncommon view in any of the literature on immigration attitudes. There’s always this notion that somebody at the elite level or in the media or whatever has to package something for you, right? They’ll package a negative stereotype with a racial association. Then people take that, and that will become part of their thinking. I think the same is true for values. People consensually value egalitarianism. They think it’s important to obey the law, or at least they tell you that in surveys.
They think it’s good to help people who are in need. They think all of these things, and these aren’t things that they need to be told to think. But they need to be told how to link those things to the immigration policy controversies of the day.
Matt Grossmann: Now in Canada, Wright is also thinking the values may not be American specific.
Matthew Wright: Americans and Canadians tend not to differ too much on basic values orientations, at least when it comes to immigration. They do more in other places. Canadians tend in the abstract to favor multiculturalism a little bit more than so-called assimilation in the abstract, but when the rubber meets the road, when you give them concrete situations, concrete immigrant groups and whatever, it’s actually striking how similar they are in terms of what they’ll accept and what they won’t.
So an open question for us is, how much of the values, so-called, that go into US public opinion are, as you say, intrinsically American, which is to say politically constructed over decades and even centuries, and how much of it is widespread even universal? So good example of that is something like American’s obsession with procedural legalism, which is one of the things we talk about a lot in the book as a foundation for attitudes about illegal immigration. Now this is something that goes back to Tocqueville, at least, that Americans are these litigious people obsessed with law and order and the rule of law and caring more about rules and process than they care about outcomes.
It’s conceivable that that is a uniquely American thing and not as widespread in other parts of the world. On the other hand, there’s no reason to believe that humanitarianism is any more or less of a factor in the US than it is elsewhere. So certain of these things I think will travel over borders more than others.
Matt Grossmann: And Ramirez is looking at the role of principals and racism in another area where they are linked, support for free speech or hate speech.
Mark Ramirez: What I’m doing now is really looking at free speech, political tolerance, really trying to get at this question of how much of people support for free speech, particularly supporters on the right, how much of that is driven by a desire just to be able to say whatever offensive, nasty thing that they want to say versus how much of it is actual political principles?
So I just got CCS data from 2020 that starts to look at this and actually found a lot of support for people that value self autonomy are actually really supportive of prohibiting hate speech regulations. So there is a dominant place for principles in people’s support for free speech, but there’s also a lot of correlation between different racial attitude measures that I included, social dominance, orientation, and so forth. So that’s the new project.
Matt Grossmann: There’s a lot more to learn. On today’s topics, you can listen to the xenophobia episode with historian, Erica Lee, from the Democracy Group Network podcast, Democracy in Danger, or on our own prior Science of Politics episodes Is White Identity Causing an Immigration Backlash? with Ashley Jardina and Eric Kaufman, or Anti-Immigration Politics: Is California’s Past the Republicans’ Future? with Iris Hui and Joshua Zingher.
The Science of Politics is available biweekly from the Niskanen Center and part of the Democracy Group Network. I’m your host, Matt Grossman. Thanks to Mark Ramirez and Matthew Wright for joining me. Please check out Ignored Racism and Immigration and the American Ethos, and then listen in next time.