Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

CSSS Seminar: Can Politicians Shape Public Attitudes Towards Immigrants?

Posted: 11/28/2016 (Local Events)

Symbolic politics scholars have argued that politicians’ use of symbolic language blaming groups like racial minorities or immigrants for society’s problems may not only encourage popular support for exclusionary policies but also influence public views of the targeted groups themselves. Nevertheless, there is little direct evidence that elite statements do in fact shape individual attitudes. René Flores tests this widespread assumption by analyzing the attitudinal effects of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign announcement speech, in which he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” To provide causal estimates, she employ a counterfactual approach by comparing the immigration attitudes of survey respondents interviewed right before the speech with those interviewed right after. She finds that Trump’s statements had a negative effect on public opinion towards immigrants. Second, using a national panel survey experiment, she confirmed elite statements’ attitudinal effects and uncovered a structural trait: their effects are short-lived. This feature explains why nativist politicians like Trump need to constantly prod natives to keep their messages’ effects from dissipating. In addition, she finds little evidence that messages by elites are more impactful than those uttered by non-elites suggesting that the power of elite rhetoric lies primarily in its capacity to reach the masses via the news media.

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Date: 11/30/2016

Time: 12:30 - 1:30 PM PT

Location: University of Washington, Savery 409