Racial Resentment is the Biggest Predictor of Immigration Attitudes, Study Finds

White Americans’ negative attitudes toward immigrants are driven overwhelmingly by racial prejudices, not “economic anxiety,” according to a working paper by political scientist Steven V. Miller of Clemson University.

Immigration hard-liners, including President Trump, often frame their arguments with ostensibly race-neutral appeals to public safety or economic interest. As Trump said in July 2015, Mexicans are “taking our jobs. They’re taking our manufacturing jobs. They’re taking our money. They’re killing us.” This has led many commentators to conclude that the attitudes driving Trump and his supporters on questions of immigration are primarily economic, rather than racial in nature.

Political scientists have subsequently tested this theory, at least as it applies to Trump support overall, and found it lacking — over and over and over again. But Miller’s paper is extremely useful because it removes the question from the specific context of 2016 and places it in a more general policy realm.

To do this, he draws on nationally representative survey data from the American National Election Studies and the Voter Study Group, two well-established surveys of voter attitudes and behavior. To measure views on immigration, the surveys ask respondents whether levels of immigration should be increased, decreased or left the same.

The surveys measure racial attitudes using a well-established battery of questions on “racial resentment.” Political scientists generally define this as something like “a moral feeling that blacks violate such traditional American values as individualism and self-reliance.” It’s measured via agreement with statements like, “It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites” and “Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.”

The surveys also include a number of ways to measure what’s come to be known as “economic anxiety”: evaluations about the country’s economic health, as well as respondents’ employment status and job market conditions in their communities, counties and states of residence.

By Christopher Ingraham for THE WASHINGTON POST
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