Political Behavior

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 155–180 | Cite as

Ricochet: How Elite Discourse Politicizes Racial and Ethnic Identities

  • Efrén O. PérezEmail author
Original Paper


Political elites often discuss racial/ethnic outgroups in a critical light. I claim this discourse raises the salience of group identity while impugning its worth, thus inducing differential political reactions among high and low identifying group members. Specifically, high identifiers will engage in political efforts that restore their identity’s positive value by displaying ingroup favoritism and challenging the source of their group’s devaluation. In contrast, low identifiers will actively decline political opportunities to bolster their group’s devalued status. Using a national survey experiment, I randomly assigned eligible but unregistered Latino voters to a control group without elite discourse; a non-devaluing condition with elite discourse focused on illegal immigration; or, a devaluing condition with elite discourse focused on illegal immigration and critical of illegal immigrants. High identifying Latinos in the devaluing condition expressed greater pro-Latino political attitudes and a stronger intention to register and vote in a pending presidential election. This dynamic was absent in the other conditions and unrelated to Latinos’ partisan identity. These results suggest an identity-to-politics link is robustly forged among high identifying group members when they sense a devaluation of their group.


Social identity theory (SIT) Racial and ethnic politics Latino politics Survey experiments 



I express my deepest gratitude to Cindy Kam for offering valuable advice and encouragement throughout this project. I also thank Lisa Garcia Bedolla, Jennifer Merolla, and Ricardo Ramírez for constructive feedback on an earlier version of this paper. Finally, for their insightful suggestions, I thank my reviewers and participants in the Center for New Institutional Social Sciences (CNISS) seminar at Washington University in St. Louis, and the Politics of Race, Immigration, and Ethnicity Consortium (PRIEC) meeting at U.C. Berkeley.

Conflict of interest

The author declares he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical standards

This study complies with relevant U.S. laws.

Supplementary material

11109_2013_9262_MOESM1_ESM.docx (27 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 26 kb)


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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