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The New White Flight?: The Effects of Political Appeals to Latinos on White Democrats

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One explanation for the post-1965 shift in the vote choice of White Americans posits that it was driven by a shift in the racial imagery of the two major parties. The growing role of Latinos in the Democratic Party has brought new changes in the racial groups associated with the parties. In this paper, I explore whether the increasing attention to Latinos in Democratic Party politics is having an effect similar to that which followed African-Americans political repositioning 50 years ago, and decreasing support for the Party among White Democrats. Drawing on three survey experiments, from two elections, I demonstrate that as White Democrats learn about Democratic outreach to Latinos, they become less supportive of Democrats. This pattern, I find, is driven by the effects that such information has on the racial prototypes associated with each party. All together, these findings point to a new phase of racial realignment in the American political system.

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  1. This includes leaners.

  2. In his work on the evolution of this partisan realignment, Schicker (2016) draws attention to how longtime New York Times Washington bureau chief Arthur Krock repeatedly discussed the significance of these changes (see, e.g., New York Times, August 9, 1936, p. E3; October 13, 1936, p. 18; September 7, 1938, p. 24; September 11, 1938, p. 77; November 6, 1938, p. 77). Additionally, the widely-read syndicated columnist Frank Kent also drew attention to these dynamics (see, e.g., “The Great Game of Politics: A Solid Black Belt?” Wall Street Journal, June 30, 1938).

  3. There are many examples of political advertising on traditionally English-language networks that included Spanish-language content, including the frequently referenced George P. Bush ad in 1988 (Connaughton and Jarvis 2004). In addition to campaign advertisements, there are a growing number of bilingual voter engagement public service announcements (e.g. Voto Latino n.d.). Often referred to as “crossover advertising,” this pattern has received a fair amount of attention in the realm of commercial advertising but limited attention in the context of political advertising (Castañeda Paredes 2001).

  4. Only 11 respondents were pure independents/not leaners, and therefore were not included in the analyses.

  5. Please rate your feeling towards Barack Obama. Is your overall impression of him…(1) Favorable; (2) Somewhat Favorable; (3) Neither favorable nor unfavorable; (4) Somewhat unfavorable; (5) Unfavorable.” Coded on a scale ranging from zero to one with higher values corresponding to more favorable attitudes.

  6. “Do you think the ad you watched was targeted toward a specific group of voters, such as a specific region, ethnic group or age group?” If respondents answered yes, they were then asked in an open-ended format, “which group of voters do you think the ad was targeting?” Responses that referenced Hispanics, Latinos, Mexicans, Mexican-Americans or Spanish-speaking individuals were all coded as 1. All other responses were coded as 0.

  7. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, while more representative than student convenience samples, is less representative than national probability samples (see Online Appendix 3 for demographics across the samples). In particular, Mechanical Turk samples tend to underrepresent low education, older, conservative, republican and non-White respondents (Berinsky et al. 2012). However, since I was only interested in White Democrat respondents in this study, the racial and partisan skew was not an issue in this study. Further any liberal bias in this sample should work against my proposed hypothesis. Nonetheless, it is due to the limitations of any given sample that I replicated the findings in this study two times, using three different survey firms and three different samples.

  8. “As a whole, is the layout well balanced—or does it feel cluttered or otherwise imbalanced?”.

  9. “Do the image and title of the featured story support one another in a way that gives you a clear sense of what the story is about?”.

  10. “Do the visuals (including text and photos) appear clear and of high quality—or do they look like they are of poor quality?”.

  11. “Which party’s presidential nominee was featured on the webpage you saw at the beginning of the survey? (1) The Democratic Party Nominee; (2) The Republican Party Nominee; (3) Someone else.

  12. “Some of the featured stories focused on presidential candidates at events targeting certain groups of voters. Can you recall which group of voters, if any, the candidate seemed to be trying to appeal to in the image you saw? (1) Latinos/Hispanics; (2) Undecided voters; (3) Voters in Iowa; (4) General audience/It was not clear from the image. Order of response options was randomized.

  13. “Do you have a favorable or unfavorable view of the following people: Hillary Clinton?” (1) Very favorable; (2) Somewhat favorable; (3) Somewhat unfavorable; (4) Very unfavorable; (5) Don’t know (excluded from analyses). Coded on a scale from zero to one with higher values indicating higher levels of favorability for Hillary Clinton.

  14. “Would you consider voting for Hillary Clinton?” (1)I plan on voting for Hillary Clinton; (2) Might consider voting for her; (3) Would never vote for her; (4) Probably won’t vote (excluded from analysis). Coded on a scale from zero to one with higher values indicating a greater likelihood of voting for Hillary Clinton.

  15. “If the 2016 presidential election were being held today and the candidates were Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, Donald Trump, the Republican, Gary Johson, the Libertarian, and Jill Stein, from the Green Party, who would you vote for?. (1) Hillary Clinton; (2) Donald Trump; (3) Gary Johnson; (4) Jill Stein”. Order of response options was randomized.

  16. “How much do you agree or disagree with the following statement: ‘If they increase in status, racial minorities are likely to reduce the influence of White Americans in society.’ 7-point response scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

  17. Scale created using two items: How much do you agree or disagree with the following statements: (1) "Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Hispanics should do the same without any special favors; (2) "Discrimination has created conditions that make it difficult for Hispanics to work their way out of the lower class." Response options were measured on a 5-point response scale ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.

  18. Association between Latinos and Democrats: “Generally speaking, which partisan group do you typically associate the following social groups with: Hispanics/Latinos… (1) Only the Republican Party (2) Mostly the Republican Party; (3) Both Parties about equally; (4) Most the Democratic Party; (5) Only the Democratic Party.

  19. Association between Whites and Republicans: “How much do you think each political party represents people like you? Do you think they represent people like you extremely well, pretty well, a little bit, not very well, or not at all: Republicans”. Five-point response scale ranging from “represent people like me extremely well” to “do not represent people like me at all”.

  20. It is certainly reasonable to wonder whether the critiques of this scale—both in general and as a measure of attitudes toward groups other than Blacks—weakens its ability to detect a mediating role of racial resentment toward Latinos. This limitation highlights the need for additional research on the best way to measure racial resentment toward Latinos.


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Correspondence to Mara Cecilia Ostfeld.

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I express my deepest thanks to Bernard Fraga, Eric Gonzalez Juenke, Tony Carey, Leonie Huddy, Nick Valentino, Vincent Hutchings, Matt Levendusky, and Diana Mutz for offering candid and constructive advice on this project. I am also indebted to Ronald Jordan, Jr., Gloria Rolón-Jordan and Zaida Rolón for useful insights on this paper and invaluable support. Finally, I thank the Center for the Study on Citizens and Politics at the University of Pennsylvania for the financial support to perform the first experiment. The data and code to replicate the results reported in this paper can be found in the Political Behavior data archive in Dataverse.

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Ostfeld, M.C. The New White Flight?: The Effects of Political Appeals to Latinos on White Democrats. Polit Behav 41, 561–582 (2019).

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