Category: Wk 8: Pop. demographics and the salience of sudden change

The Permeance of Political Messaging in Local Communities

How Trump-Fed Conspiracy Theories About Migrant Caravan Interest With Deadly Hatred

This week’s readings have been centered around changing attitudes towards immigrants in different geographical and demographical contexts. Abrajano and Hajnal (2015) and Hopkins (2010) discuss hypotheses of white and native views about immigration. Both seem to agree that the racial threat hypothesis does not fully characterize trends across the nation in different localities and demographic changes. Abrajano and Hajnal observed that states with larger Latino populations were more concerned about immigration while large Asian populations did not illicit the same effect. Hopkins concluded that negative attitudes resulted from politicized national rhetoric surrounding changes in demographics more so than from interactions with immigrants, while, similarly, Adida (2018) suggested that perspective-taking messaging caused positive views more definitively than proximity with an outgroup. These readings seemed to suggest that one of the most consistent factors impacting outlooks on immigration is politicized messaging. The article linked above provides an example of how specific political messaging about changing demographics permeated local communities and impacted attitudes towards immigration. Peters’ article explains how Trump and his administration’s rhetoric about a caravan of dangerous, malevolent migrants approaching the Southern border has influenced ideologies of local Americans and even inspired acts of hatred in communities like Squirrel Hill. Trump vocalizes and amplifies the ideas of more radical groups, allowing them to be spread nationally and received locally through news organization and his personal Twitter account. The power from this impact can be seen through not just through increasingly negative attitudes evidenced by polling results, but through tangible violence.

Why have these responses to political messaging about immigration so extreme and do you think that if Trump began tweeting perspective-taking messages that local communities would be affected to the same degree?

Majority-minority Demographic Forecast Fuels Anxiety

The news media often discusses the impending arrival of a majority-minority United States. The Census Bureau predicts that non-Hispanic whites will make up less than 50% of the United States population by 2044. Yet these organizations and news outlets define “whiteness” in a very narrow context, which can fuel the threat narrative and, in turn, white backlash. A study by Dowell Myers and Morris Levy, researchers at USC, explores the partisan perceptions of this media coverage. Their research directly relates to the Abrajano and Hajnal reading we have been discussing in lecture the last two weeks. They argue the most publicized versions of demographic data exclude large numbers of people that may identify as white. In fact, the same data that projected a majority-minority U.S. also reports that in 2060, the country will still be greater than 68% white. But a larger portion of these people will be of mixed race or hispanic descent. Myers and Levy presented exclusive and inclusive demographic forecasts to different groups of white people. They found higher levels of “anxiety or anger” in whites who had read the exclusive report– which discussed declining white population dominance– than in the more inclusive data analysis. These results were especially strong among Republicans, again reinforcing the importance of partisanship when discussing immigration and race.  While this study does not explain fully the origins of the threat narrative, it successfully argues media coverage can have a statistically significant impact on white perceptions of immigrants.


Vox summary and analysis:

Discussion Questions:

Why would media usually report the most exclusive demographic numbers, thereby fueling a threat narrative?

How large of a role would this fear actually have in determining attitudes towards immigrants?

Is the partisan divide in Myer’s and Levy’s find consistent with our other readings this semester?


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