Is There ‘White Backlash’ to Latino Immigration? Author Says Yes

Stephen A. Nuño, NBC News, October 20, 2015

Is there a downside to the rapid growth of the Latino population in American politics? A new book by two professors at the University of California at San Diego posits that mass immigration by Latinos has touched off a wave of bitterness among white voters who are voicing their disapproval with a migration of their own to the Republican Party–who is receiving them with open arms.

Marissa Abrajano is an award-winning political scientist and has written extensively about Latino politics throughout her career. Her latest book with co-author Zoltan Hajnal, White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics, is an analysis of the impact that the growing Latino population has on white political attitudes. The authors look at the stark reality of how voters are hardening their positions on policies based on their views of Latino immigrants, attitudes that the authors say don’t carry over to Asian American immigrants.

Even though other issues are important to Republican voters, immigration has once again risen to the top as a predictor of support for Republican policies, and despite Republicans who say that they welcome “legal immigrants” but not “illegal immigrants”, Abrajano says the data paints a different story.

“From most people’s minds, this distinction–legal immigration versus illegal immigration–doesn’t make all that much of a difference because from most people’s minds when they think about immigration they already have their notions and beliefs of what immigration is, and to a large extent it’s a negative perception of immigration,” Abrajano said in an interview with NBC News.

Abrajano and Hajnal conclude in their book that, “When Americans talk about undocumented immigrants, Latinos, or immigrants in general, the images in their heads are likely the same.” However, Americans aren’t always negative about immigrants. Abrajano and Hajnal’s analysis shows that whites do not have the same views when it comes to Asian-Americans.

For example, unlike Latinos, greater migration into states from Asian-Americans is unrelated to support or lack of support for social welfare policies, and there is greater leniency with respect to the death penalty when associated with Asian-Americans.

In other words, the authors say that the backlash is a response to the country’s negative views of Latino immigrants, not so much their negative views of immigrants in general.

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