Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with Nicholas Valentino.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Two weeks ago, the Gang of Eight immigration bill passed in the Senate. The bill overhauls immigration policy, from border security to legalizing undocumented citizens. The bill passed 82-15. While the Senate support was a large majority over the 60 needed, the 15 votes against came from Republicans.

Prior to that, House Speaker John Boehner (R) highlighted the party lines of such overhaul, saying, “I don’t see any way of bringing an immigration bill to the floor that doesn’t have majority support of Republicans.” He vowed not to bring the bill to a vote in the House without majority Republican support upfront.

Support for immigration varies powerfully along party lines, but the explanation for this difference does not appear to be a simple matter of economic interest.

Forthcoming research by Center for Political Studies Researcher Nicholas Valentino, along with Ted Brader and their students Ashley Jardina and Timothy Ryan, shows that despite higher levels of competition for jobs and wages, blacks are less hostile to immigration than whites. The researchers suggest that this gap in support is explained best by differences in empathy for the dominant immigrant group in the U.S., Latinos.

Survey research from the Globalization Threat Study show that blacks are more supportive of immigration than whites. American National Election Studies data also support these results. A powerful explanation for the gap appears to be differential feelings toward Latinos: Blacks feel much more warmly toward this group than whites, and these differences account for different policy preferences on immigration. Using an experiment, the researchers also gauged the malleability of these attitudes. Participants were randomly assigned to one of three news conditions: a positive story about immigration, a negative story about immigration, or an unrelated story. Results suggest that blacks are more resistant to negative news stories about immigration than whites.

This research counters past works that suggests that minorities may be less supportive of other minorities, as these groups tend to have to compete for a smaller slice of the pie. In fact, the researchers distinguished between financially secure and insecure blacks and found the least secure blacks in their study were most likely to reject news accounts that blamed immigrants for social problems.


As Valentino concludes, “Symbolic attitudes are powerful and expansive, crossing ethnic lines to bind groups with competing interests.”