The Washington Post publicizes a lot of good political science these days. (Thank you, Mr. Bezos!) They recently ran a column entitled, “Americans aren’t biased against Latino immigration. Here’s what they actually fear.”
Short version: Morris Levy (USC) and Matthew Wright (American) surveyed a bunch of white Californians about their attitude towards immigration. They humanized their questions by asking the respondents about a particular individual, either a Mexican immigrant named “Juan,” a Chinese immigrant named “Yuan,” or a German immigrant named “Johan.” In addition, half of all respondents were told that the immigrant they read about had lived in the United States for two years. The other half were also told that Juan/Yuan/Johan speaks English and has worked steadily as a waiter.
Here is what they found:
In other words, when there was no information about the immigrant, more white Californians supported legalization when thinking about somebody from Europe or China than from Mexico. But if they were told that the immigrant worked and spoke English, the gap disappeared.
The authors then conclude, “Discrimination against Latinos may grow not from hostility against an ethnic ‘outgroup,’ but rather stereotypes about whether they will contribute to the United States or become a burden.”
It’s a neat result, but I don’t understand the conclusion. They find that when told a male immigrant has assimilated, white Californians don’t care about his ethnic background. But they also find that without any information, Californians assume that Mexicans are much less likely to assimilate than other immigrants. They conclude that people stereotype Mexican immigrants as less educated and more likely to become a public burden.
That is possible. But there is another explanation. They found that white people in California don’t consider Mexicans impossible to assimilate. But their results are consistent with the hypothesis that white people consider Mexicans to be intrinsically harder for the American melting pot to melt.
Wouldn’t that make them an ethnic outgroup?