Chan, Stephanie, Tanika Raychaudhuri, and Ali A. Valenzuela. “Group Threat or Contact? Experimentally Testing the Effects of Context Cues on Immigration Policy Views.” Manuscript submitted for publication.
How do the dynamics of local immigrant populations influence Americans’ attitudes about immigration? The group threat hypothesis predicts that exposure to local immigrant populations activates anxiety and reduces support for immigration. Alternatively, the intergroup contact hypothesis predicts that exposure to immigrants in local communities decreases prejudice towards out-group members and increases support for immigration. This study arbitrates between these possible explanations for Americans’ immigration policy views by manipulating the salience of recent levels of or changes in local immigrant populations. In a survey experiment, we asked a sample of over 2,500 Americans to recall either the size of the immigrant population in their locality or changes in this population over the past 15 years. We test whether priming “levels” or “changes” in the local immigrant population activates threat or intergroup contact responses, relative to a control. Consistent with the intergroup contact hypothesis, we find that reminding respondents about the levels of immigrants in their local communities leads to a modest increase in support for pro-immigration outcomes, including policies that would increase immigration and support for politicians who advocate for a pathway to citizenship. Using text analysis, we also offer preliminary evidence that the mechanism driving these effects is positive interactions with immigrants in local communities, as the intergroup contact hypothesis predicts.