Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology

René Flores Explores How Elites Shape Public Attitudes Toward Immigrants

Posted: 6/4/2018 (CSDE in the News)

How does dehumanizing rhetoric lay the groundwork for violent action? A new story in The Washington Post explores this question, drawing on research from Affiliate René Flores, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago. Flores’ 2018 article, “Can Elites Shape Public Attitudes Toward Immigrants?: Evidence from the 2016 US Presidential Election,” examines how political elites influence public perceptions of social groups they praise or denounce.

To do this, Flores analyzed the attitudinal effects of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign announcement speech, in which he referred to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “criminals.” First, to provide causal estimates, Flores analyzed survey data using a counterfactual approach. Next, using a panel survey experiment, he corroborated the causal relationship yet found that the effects were short-lived. Flores notes that this outcome “explains why restrictionist politicians like Trump constantly prod natives to keep their messages’ effects from dissipating.”

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