The Politics of Belonging: Race, Public Opinion, and Immigration by Natalie Masuoka, Jane Junn |, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
The Politics of Belonging: Race, Public Opinion, and Immigration

The Politics of Belonging: Race, Public Opinion, and Immigration

by Natalie Masuoka, Jane Junn

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The United States is once again experiencing a major influx of immigrants. Questions about who should be admitted and what benefits should be afforded to new members of the polity are among the most divisive and controversial contemporary political issues.

Using an impressive array of evidence from national surveys, The Politics of Belonging illuminates


The United States is once again experiencing a major influx of immigrants. Questions about who should be admitted and what benefits should be afforded to new members of the polity are among the most divisive and controversial contemporary political issues.

Using an impressive array of evidence from national surveys, The Politics of Belonging illuminates patterns of public opinion on immigration and explains why Americans hold the attitudes they do. Rather than simply characterizing Americans as either nativist or nonnativist, this book argues that controversies over immigration policy are best understood as questions over political membership and belonging to the nation. The relationship between citizenship, race, and immigration drive the politics of belonging in the United States and represents a dynamism central to understanding patterns of contemporary public opinion on immigration policy. Beginning with a historical analysis, this book documents why this is the case by tracing the development of immigration and naturalization law, institutional practices, and the formation of the American racial hierarchy. Then, through a comparative analysis of public opinion among white, black, Latino, and Asian Americans, it identifies and tests the critical moderating role of racial categorization and group identity on variation in public opinion on immigration.

Editorial Reviews

Marisa A. Abrajano
The Politics of Belonging makes a profound contribution to the research on public opinion and immigration. Theoretically rich and innovative, it tackles the subject matter in an original and thought-provoking manner, deftly weaving a historical narrative of the creation of America’s immigration laws with the country’s racial hierarchy. Against this backdrop, Natalie R. Masuoka and Jane Junn offer a wealth of data to argue convincingly that public opinion on immigration is a reflection of racial attitudes.”
International Migration Review
The Politics of Belonging should be influential for public opinion scholars. It showcases several important surveys, raises the importance of interactive effects by race on individual attitudes, and offers new insight into opinion on the issue of immigration.”
Journal of Asian American Studies
Politics of Belonging is ultimately a valuable text for the social sciences as it advances empirical examinations of the racial hierarchy. Masuoka and Junn provide an innovative quantitative approach to comparative race studies. One of the major strengths of their racial diamond model is its emphasis on malleability. They assert that ‘racial stereotypes are thus not obdurate constructs but specific to the time and context of political belonging’ and cite the changing positioning of Asian Americans as evidence of how dominant racist tropes for each group can change over time.”
Cindy D. Kam
The Politics of Belonging offers a timely, important, and forceful argument for how race and ethnicity structure the public’s understandings of American identity, racial/ethnic identity, and immigration policy. Natalie Masuoka and Jane Junn argue persuasively that a group’s position in the American social, economic, and political hierarchy influences how group members arrive at their views of who counts as an American and what shape immigration policy ought to take.”
David O. Sears
“Natalie Masuoka and Jane Junn pose the central political question in an era of global immigration: Who should belong inside a nation? Taking a social structural approach that incorporates racial hierarchy and group position theory, they embed public opinion in a broader historical account of law and institutional practices. And in analyzing the contrasting dynamics of opinion across America’s main ethnic and racial groups, they uncover the crucial moderating role played by group identities. The result is the most thorough and authoritative account of public opinion about immigration yet to be done.”
Huffington Post
"Masuoka and Junn's,The Politics of Belonging . . . covers new ground on understanding the attitudes and political beliefs of communities that are often left out of national discussions of politics. [An] important read."

“Masuoka and Junn focus on American structural racism, particularly as it relates to immigration policy. . . . They persuasively argue that this structure is invisible to those who belong but clearly visible to those who have been deemed excluded, rendered invisible. . . . [The authors] write so clearly that this book is accessible to and recommended to all levels of readers.”
Political Communication
“There’s a consistent level of nuance and innovation in [The Politics of Belonging] that I find remarkable. . . . This book opens the door for new theories and new methods precisely because it asks us larger questions about how, when, and why researchers see meaningful boundaries between and within groups. In doing so, it makes the study of public opinion more complex, which is a welcome development indeed.”
Political Science Quarterly
“When studying public opinion regarding immigration, scholars tend to focus on the effect of partisanship or ideology on Americans’policy preferences. Rarely do political scientists consider factors like race or ethnicity as anything other than a simple control variable in the analysis. In The Politics of Belonging, however, Masuoka and Junn move the study of racial identity to centerstage by arguing that the distinct historical experiences of America’s largest racial groups—whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians—shape important differences in their attitudes toward immigration. But The Politics of Belonging is much more than a book about immigration; instead, it is a study of intergroup relations and the effects of the perceived racial hierarchy in American society. . . . A must-read.”
Perspectives on Politics
 “An original and important contribution to an understanding of immigration policy attitudes. . . . Masuoka and Junn provide a rich theoretical story of how one’s position in the American racial hierarchy influences one’s sense of belonging, which in turn affects opinions on immigration policy. The text deftly weaves together the development of the argument, with support backed up with empirics. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding opinions on immigration, but the contribution goes well beyond that.”

Product Details

University of Chicago Press
Publication date:
Chicago Studies in American Politics Series
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

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The Politics of Belonging

Race, Public Opinion, and Immigration



Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-226-05702-6


Public Opinion through a Racial Prism

Political attitudes on immigration and naturalization defy simple explanation, and making sense of public opinion among a racially diverse polity has become more challenging. While opinion polls routinely show variation in preferences for immigration policy by political party identification, the most obvious and consistent differences in public opinion are visible among Americans classified by race. Consider the variation in responses by race in a recent survey that asked people how concerned they were about the "rising number of immigrants in the United States." Among whites, 77% reported being somewhat or very concerned. In contrast, smaller proportions of African Americans (57%), Asian Americans (57%), and Latinos (52%) replied similarly. A 2010 Pew survey found that 73% of whites favored the Arizona immigrant-profiling law (SB 1070), while 51% of blacks approved. When asked whether the number of immigrants should be reduced, remain the same, or be increased, Asian Americans and Latinos were less likely to say that the number of immigrants should be reduced a little or a lot than were African Americans and whites.

Regarding other aspects of immigration policy such as eligibility for social services, a somewhat different pattern of opinion among racial groups is apparent. When asked if all immigrants in the United States should be eligible for social services provided by state and local governments—an issue approved by a majority of California voters when they passed Proposition 187, the "Save Our State" initiative, in 1994—well over 80% of whites nationally voice opposition. In contrast, the opposite pattern of support for immigrant eligibility for social services is apparent among minority Americans. Three times the proportion of Asian Americans and Latinos and two and a half times the percentage of African Americans compared to whites agreed that all immigrants should be eligible for social services.

Explanations for the systematic divergence in political attitudes on immigration often rely on partisanship as a reason for the differences in attitudes between racial groups. Whites might be more favorable toward restrictionist immigration policies because they are more often Republicans than are African Americans, Latinos, and Asian Americans. But as have other polarizing issues, such as campaign financing, the politics of immigration has often brought together strange bedfellows, alliances of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats. Immigration policy reform since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act has always been a bipartisan affair, resulting in federal legislation such as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act (also known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986), which both criminalized hiring unauthorized workers and provided a path to citizenship for some immigrants. At the same time, policies of restriction, opposition to amnesty for unauthorized aliens, and withholding public education and social services are most closely associated with the Republican Party. While Democratic politicians are more likely to favor progressive policies such as the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, they do not do so in lockstep, and Democrats joined Republicans in support of stronger border control and deportation enforcement aimed primarily at Latino immigrants under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (1996). In these important ways, elite cues about Democratic and Republican Party positions on immigration are not always clear cut (Tichenor 2002).

Despite these complexities, Democrats are nevertheless perceived to be more progressive on immigration reform than Republicans. If white Americans are more likely to be Republican than are African Americans or Latinos or Asian Americans—and they are—the differential in partisanship could explain the divergence in policy attitudes. As we discuss in detail in the empirical chapters that follow, partisan affiliation does influence public opinion on immigration, but it does so in distinctive ways among whites, Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans, the patterns reflecting the intersection between partisanship and race. For example, the 2006 Faces of Immigration Survey shows nearly perfect correspondence between strong Republican Party affiliation and concern about immigration among whites; 99% of white Republicans say they are somewhat or very concerned about the rising number of immigrants in the United States. Consistent with partisan differences, fewer whites who identify with the Democratic Party have the same response, and 75% reply similarly.

Partisanship does not explain positions on immigration to the same degree among racial minorities, however. Among Latinos, Asian Americans, and African Americans who identify with the Republican Party, the proportions who are somewhat or very concerned about increasing numbers of immigrants are more comparable to attitudes among Democratic whites; 65% of Republican Latinos are concerned, 74% of Asian American Republicans are concerned, and 57% of Republican African Americans (a small proportion of the party) are somewhat or very concerned about the rising number of immigrants in the United States. So while party identification influences individual attitudes about immigration in predictable ways, it does not do so to the same degree for all racial groups.

Understanding contemporary public opinion on immigration is a complex task that requires broadening the range of theoretical perspectives as well as the methodological strategies utilized to understand the dynamics of political attitudes. In a nation far beyond the black-white divide, models of public opinion built so heavily on that binary are not well suited to explaining variation in political attitudes amidst the racial diversity in the United States today. Traditional analytical strategies are characterized by estimating a multivariate model to explain variation in attitudes and specifying "control" or "dummy" variables for being black, Latino, or Asian American in addition to measures of partisanship and other relevant controls. The results often yield significant results for the race control variables given that the excluded category of white is the reference category to which all of the other groups are compared.

Absent stronger theoretical justification for analysis conducted with this setup, however, showing a significant result for a control variable representing an individual's racial-group classification indicates only that race matters. Important as these findings are, this strategy does not generate either expectations or explanations about why the patterns of difference are visible. A control-variable strategy in the absence of interaction effects specifies only differences in intercept rather than systematic variation in slope, where race is treated as an individual-level trait to control for rather than a structural feature that produces differential outcomes because of group position. For example, labor economists know that higher formal educational attainment is positively related to income earnings in much the same way that political scientists can demonstrate that strong Republican Party identification is related to support of restrictive immigration policies at the individual level. But economists also know that education has weaker effects on income for women than on earnings among men. Women continue to earn seventy-seven cents for every dollar earned by men in the United States, and not only do female workers earn less to start in many occupational sectors, but the rate at which income earnings increase with levels of education is not as steep for women as it is for men. Economic models of income earnings therefore either estimate models separately by sex or specify interaction effects to account for intercept and slope differences between relevant categories of analysis. In contrast, political scientists studying public opinion rarely take steps to specify a theoretical position of expected differences based in hierarchically structured groups such as race.

Our approach in Conditional Welcome takes as axiomatic the unequal structural context of the racial hierarchy in the United States and models the significance of group position for public opinion on immigration. We argue that political attitudes are structured by the racial hierarchy, are formed at the individual level through the lens of group identity, and are the product of group interactions and historical memory. Public opinion on immigration at the individual level is filtered through a racial prism, moderated by social-group identity in terms of perceptions of what it means to be an American and racial-group consciousness. In the following section we discuss the framework of race as it is perceived in the United States and analyze the significance and shape of the American racial hierarchy. We next articulate an individual-level theory of the context of racial-group position, the Racial Prism of Group Identity (RPGI) model, and specify how relative status among groups has consequences for political attitudes. In the final section of this chapter we explicate a methodological strategy of comparative relational analysis for studying public opinion in a diverse American polity and specify empirical expectations generated by the RPGI model.

The American Racial Hierarchy and 'Its Consequences for Public Opinion

The American state has since its inception classified and ranked people by race for political purposes. The founders' decision to preserve the practice of slavery set the stage for subsequent federal policy that would grant citizenship based on racial-group status. African slaves, Native Americans, Mexicans, and Chinese, among other groups, were excluded from political membership because they were considered undesirable for membership in the polity. The first federal law governing citizenship in 1790 established whiteness as a condition of membership, and the institutionalization of a racial hierarchy in the United States was codified by a steady stream of constitutional protections of slavery, federal and state legislation, Supreme Court and lower court rulings, international treaties and agreements, and executive actions supporting the ranking of nonwhites as inferior to whites (Schrag 2010; Bosniak 2006; Ngai 2004; Tichenor 2002; Smith 1997). Counted as three-fifths of the white population for legislative apportionment in article I, section 2, of the US Constitution, African slaves were described as "other persons." Political personhood and citizenship rights were unthinkable for a human population of slaves owned by whites. Deemed inferior, blacks have been at the bottom of the racial hierarchy in the United States for centuries, initially not free and not citizens, and not meaningfully enfranchised for one hundred years after the ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution. These racialized formations solidified the role of group categorization and the racial hierarchy as a powerful stratifier and constant of social structure in the United States.

People classified as white, on the other hand, are positioned at the top of the hierarchy. The groups of people included in the white category have expanded over time from the narrow conception of whiteness in Anglo-Saxon Protestant terms to include formerly "less than white" Irish, Italian, Catholic, and Jewish Americans (Gross 2008; Haney López 2006; Ignatiev 1995; M. Jacobson 1999). While the composition of the white racial category has changed, the placement of the group at the top of the hierarchy has remained constant. The category of Hispanic or Latino is a relatively new addition to the American racial taxonomy and currently exists as a designation of ethnicity rather than race. While Mexicans were enumerated as a separate race for one decennial census, the category disappeared after 1930. The designation of ethnicity as Hispanic or Latino first appeared in the census in 1980 and in official government reporting after 1977 on the basis of an administrative directive from the Office of Management and Budget (Hattam 2007). The category of Latino or Hispanic includes new immigrants from Mexico, El Salvador, and Cuba, for example, along with Americans with multi generational histories on American soil whose ancestors came to the United States from countries in Latin America or who resided on the land before it became part of the United States. Racially, Latinos can choose from any of the categories of enumeration provided by the census: "White," "Black, African Am., or Negro," "American Indian or Alaska Native," and a long list of Asian national-origin groups including "Asian Indian," "Chinese," "Japanese," "Korean," and two categories of "Other Asian" and "Other Pacific Islander." For Latinos, then, ethnicity and race are mutually exclusive.

In contrast, for Asian Americans national origin is counted by the US government as race rather than ethnicity. The only category of ethnicity in the American racial taxonomy is Latino or Hispanic, and the census counts Asian Indians, Japanese, and Koreans, for instance, as separate races. The practice of distinct racial categorization by country of origin in Asia has been in effect since the late 1800s and was put in place to support the construction and maintenance of federal Asian exclusion laws. Over time, and since 1870, the four categories of race that have remained consistent in the census are white, black, Indian, and Chinese (Nobles 2000). The racial category of Japanese was added two censuses later and has remained through 2010. The persistent and official categorization of Asian Americans as distinctly nonwhite racial outsiders has therefore been part of the official racial taxonomy since before the term "ethnicity" became part of the American racial lexicon. The staying power of these separate Asian race categories comports with explicit anti-Asian discriminatory immigration policies based in white racial privilege present until the mid-twentieth century.

The place of ethnicity and its relationship to race in the American racial taxonomy is equally illuminating. In her brilliant comparative study of the development of Jewish ethnicity and the Latino/Hispanic category in the United States, Victoria Hattam argues that race and ethnicity are mutually constitutive, each constraining and making the other possible. Ethnicity anchors difference rooted in culture and language and is—in contrast to race—malleable, open, and the basis for claims to pluralism in the United States. It is because of this construction that 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney could have, in the 2010 census, counted himself as "Latino or Hispanic or Spanish origin" because his father was born in Mexico. In contrast to ethnicity, race is the language of difference that is fixed, phenotypically distinctive, and based in blood quantum. In its distinction from ethnicity and its ties to inequality, race is defined as bounded and unchanging.

It is this relationship that fuels what Hattam calls "associative chains" of language connecting ethnicity with pluralism and race with persistent inequality and hierarchy. It is no coincidence that blacks and Chinese and Indians were fixed as races in the American taxonomy prior to the development of the concept of ethnicity in the early twentieth-century environment of eugenics. To the extent that racial classification has been used in service to and in tandem with policies of exclusion, the logic of the taxonomy need only be relevant to justifying difference. At the same time, there is a similar absence of logic and consistency in the distinction behind Hispanic/Latino as an ethnicity, though as Hattam argues, there are both discriminatory and egalitarian impulses behind the race and ethnicity distinction of the American racial taxonomy. The content and persistence of the racial taxonomy and the explicit connection to normative conceptions of desirable characteristics for political belonging set the stage for shape of the American racial hierarchy.

The shape of the American racial hierarchy

Hattam's argument about the mutually constitutive process of the formation of Jewish identity and the ethnic category of Hispanic/Latino provides an important window of insight for developing a theory of the shape of the American racial hierarchy that includes Asian Americans and Latinos along with blacks and whites. In particular, and while it is clear that whites are at the top of the racial hierarchy and blacks at the bottom, the place of Asian Americans and Latinos in the order remains in question (Omi and Winant 1994; Bonilla-Silva 2010). We conceptualize the position of the four groups in the shape of a diamond where whites are at the top, blacks are at the bottom, and Latinos and Asian Americans are between African Americans and whites (figure 1.1). Placement is indicative of desirability for entrance and full membership in the American polity that has been articulated and reinforced by the American state in immigration and naturalization policy. Desirability is a multidimensional and relative phenomenon, and as Claire Kim (2000) argues in her influential work on race relations in New York City, belonging is structured on the dual axes of superior/inferior and insider/foreigner.

Excerpted from The Politics of Belonging by NATALIE MASUOKA, JANE JUNN. Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO PRESS.
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Meet the Author

Natalie Masuoka is assistant professor of political science at Tufts University. She lives in Boston, MA. Jane Junn is professor of political science at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, CA. She is coauthor of Education and Democratic Citizenship in America.

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