Presidential candidate Donald Trump may be inadvertently tapping into a phenomenon that is energizing U.S. Latinos against him when he talks of sending illegal immigrants home and building a wall blocking off Mexico.
Recent news reports have noted a surge of Latinos registering to vote with the intent to vote against Trump because of his negative statements about their ethnic group. These results are consistent with a 2015 study by Efrén Pérez of Vanderbilt University, Ricochet: How Elite Discourse Politicizes Racial and Ethnic Identities.
The study predicted that when Latinos who strongly identify with their ethnic group perceive it is being disparaged, they respond by becoming more politically engaged and motivated to register and vote.
“[rquote]Hearing negative allegations about a subgroup, such as undocumented immigrants, within the larger Latino community, those with high levels of ethnic identification sense their ethnic identity is being attacked[/rquote],” said Pérez, associate professor of political science. “And since they strongly value this identity, these individuals strive to restore the positive distinctiveness of their group’s worth.”
In contrast, low identifiers will actively decline political opportunities that might bolster their group’s devalued status.
The results are from a survey of 1,203 Latino adults done for Peréz by Palo Alto, California-based Knowledge Networks (KN), which maintains an online research panel that is representative of the U.S. Latino population. In this study, 57 percent of the respondents were of Mexican origin—the largest group of Latinos in the United States.
The survey identified eligible but unregistered-to-vote Latinos and randomly assigned them to three groups. Two of the groups were exposed to rhetoric about illegal immigration – one neutral, the other negative. The third group was a control group not exposed to any message about illegal immigration.
In the group exposed to a statement critical of Latinos because of illegal immigration, high-identifying Latinos scored 52 on a 100 point scale for the tendency to express a pro-Latino attitude. Low-identifying Latinos scored 34.
“When elites threaten the worth of Latinos through devaluing rhetoric, high identifying Latinos in this pool of unregistered voters become politically engaged, as captured by stronger levels of pro-Latino attitude and a greater intention to register and vote in a presidential election,” Peréz said.
No critical statements
Low-identifying Latinos scored 55 for the tendency to express a pro-Latino attitude when given no statements about illegal immigration. But when they were exposed to a negative statement about illegal immigration, their score plunged to 34.
“Latinos who identify less with their heritage may pull away from the political process when they feel under attack,” said Pérez.
“There is a strong link between how strongly Latinos identify with their ethnic group and political threats aimed at them.” Peréz said. “But this is something that emerges among some Latinos under specific political circumstances, rather than a general stance held by all group members, all of the time.”