Book Project

Identity in Context:
How Competitive Elections Unify and Politicize Latinos in America

Oxford University Press
(under contract)

The research in my first book addresses when, where and why Latinos sometimes hold a strong pan-ethnic identity that is politicized and linked to collective action in politics, and when, where and why Latino pan-ethnic identity is sometimes weak and un-politicized. My analysis centers on Latinos' exposure to partisan fights in close elections, which unifies Latinos as a group by strengthening and politicizing their pan-ethnic identity. By addressing questions about the electoral and contextual sources of Latino identity strength and partisan politicization, I provide answers that are critical both for understanding Latino voting patterns specifically, and for making sense of recent U.S. elections more generally. Advancing an electoral theory of social identities in U.S. politics, I argue and show that electoral competitiveness interacts with pivotal group size to create powerful incentives for identity entrepreneurs—candidates for office and other political elites—to appeal to Latinos, their interests and opposed interests with identity-based messages that socialize Latinos about their group's electoral influence and political commitments. Electoral closeness and pivotal Latino population shares, in turn, work together to enjoin a political logic that reinforces group unity by activating a process of strategic pan-ethnic identification among individual Latinos. Using a variety of survey, geographic and experimental data, I provide evidence that exposure to these competitive elections where Latinos are demographically pivotal strengthens Latino pan-ethnic unity and politicizes pan-ethnic attachments into greater Latino support for Democratic candidates and the Democratic Party.