Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Attitudes to immigration and diversity in America

In Immigrant Shock: Can California Predict the Nation’s Future? Emily Badger writes about parallels between the political backlash against growing diversity in California between 1980 and 2000, and in other communities at the moment. The backlash is most notable in smaller communities where changes are more noticeable.
Sociological studies suggest that increasing contact between groups can yield familiarity and tolerance. But it can also unnerve, especially in communities where that rapid change is most visible — and when politicians stand to gain by exploiting it. California lashed out at diversity before embracing it.
However, this only becomes a political issue if a politician attempts to exploit the change, as Pete Wilson did in California in 1994, and as Donald Trump is doing now.
California’s example suggests that the very demographic trend Democrats believe will benefit them in the long run could aid Republicans in the near term. At least, that remains true so long as Republican candidates like Mr. Trump or Mr. Wilson position themselves in opposition to immigration or policies perceived as aiding minorities.

Mr. Trump fared particularly well in the parts of the country where demographic change is accelerating. Scholars say that it’s the change in diversity that helps explain how a community responds. So an influx of Hispanics into Chicago may not be noticeable, but a few new immigrant families into small-town Pennsylvania is.
A Wall Street Journal analysis found during the primaries that the most rapidly diversifying counties in a cluster of Midwestern states were more likely to vote for Mr. Trump.

In the general election, voters were more likely to shift to Mr. Trump in the counties with the strongest growth in the Hispanic and nonwhite populations since 2000, according to research from a coming book by Ryan Enos, a Harvard political scientist. It appears in survey data, Mr. Enos argues, that this shift in 2016 was driven by whites who had previously voted Democratic — and who don’t appear to have responded in the same way to rising diversity before Mr. Trump’s campaign.
“When I talk to people about their concerns about immigration, they often talk about language,” said Daniel Hopkins, a political scientist at the University of Pennsylvania.“They talk about being uncomfortable having to ‘press 1 for English,’ or seeing Spanish-language signs. They talk about the feeling of dispossession that comes from having lived for a long time in a community and seeing it change.”
One noticable point from the article, this is much more of an issue where there's segregation.
There is no neat tipping point, no level of diversity beyond which the backlash inevitably gives way to greater tolerance. The volume of political bluster matters. So does the level of segregation, because diversity doesn’t necessarily mean communities are integrating. So does the kind of contact that occurs when different groups bump up against one another.

Research from the 1950s found that integrated military units reduced prejudice and stereotyping. And studies since then have shown that soldiers have more interracial friendships than typical civilians (as veterans, they’re also more likely to buy homes in more integrated areas). But soldiers engage in a rare kind of contact: They live together, eat together and work together on common goals.

That’s a different kind of contact than occurs when we pass strangers in the supermarket aisle, or encounter Spanish-language signs. And even in the most demographically diverse cities, there is often little integration of schools, neighborhoods and workplaces.
In Mr. Enos’s earlier work, he found that white voters in the most segregated counties nationally were five to six percentage points less likely to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 than white voters in the least segregated places, with a similar effect within states. That suggests that the nature of contact matters not just for disarming prejudice but for shaping politics. And often, when new groups come into a community, they immediately segregate.
It's interesting that attitudes soften over time:
In another study, Mr. Enos found that the mere presence of a few Spanish speakers on a train platform was enough to raise anti-immigrant sentiment among commuters in the white, liberal Boston suburbs. But as the same Spanish speakers kept appearing over two weeks, those attitudes softened. The commuters began to smile at one another.
To reiterate, this only becomes an issue when you have a politician trying to exploit it. I think this also helps explain the Brexit vote.

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