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The Influence of Local Ethnic Diversity on Group-Centric Crime Attitudes


Several studies provide evidence of group-centric policy attitudes, that is, citizens evaluating policies based on linkages with visible social groups. The existing literature generally points to the role of media imagery, rhetoric and prominent political sponsors in driving group-centric attitudes. This article theorizes and tests an alternative source: exposure to rising local ethnic diversity. Focusing on the issue of crime, it first develops a theoretical account of how casual observation in the local context can give rise to ethnic stereotypes. Then, using two large, nationally representative datasets on citizen group and policy attitudes linked with registry data on local ethnic diversity, each spanning 20 years, it shows that crime attitudes become more strongly linked with immigration attitudes as local ethnic diversity rises. The results suggest that the typically emphasized ‘top-down’ influence on group-centric attitudes by elite actors is complemented by ‘bottom-up’ local processes of experiential learning about group–policy linkages.

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University of Copenhagen, Department of Political Science (email: I would like to thank Peter Thisted Dinesen, Kim Mannemar Sønderskov, Bolette Danckert, Martin Bisgaard, Martin Vinæs Larsen, Asmus Leth Olsen, Christopher Weber, Michael Bang Petersen, Daniel J. Hopkins, Rune Slothuus, Anne Rasmussen, fellow panelists at the 2015 meeting of the American Political Science Association, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments. All remaining errors are my own. Data replication sets are available in Harvard Dataverse at: and online appendices at

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