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The Upside of Accents: Language, Inter-group Difference, and Attitudes toward Immigration

  • Daniel J. Hopkins

Many developed democracies are experiencing high immigration, and public attitudes likely shape their policy responses. Prior studies of ethnocentrism and stereotyping make divergent predictions about anti-immigration attitudes. Some contend that culturally distinctive immigrants consistently generate increased opposition; others predict that natives’ reactions depend on the particular cultural distinction and associated stereotypes. This article tests these hypotheses using realistic, video-based experiments with representative American samples. The results refute the expectation that more culturally distinctive immigrants necessarily induce anti-immigration views: exposure to Latino immigrants with darker skin tones or who speak Spanish does not increase restrictionist attitudes. Instead, the impact of out-group cues hinges on their content and related norms, as immigrants who speak accented English seem to counteract negative stereotypes related to immigrant assimilation.

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Department of Government, Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. (email: This research was made possible by a Presidential Authority Award from the Russell Sage Foundation, and it was approved by the Georgetown Institutional Review Board (2010–12). The author greatly appreciates the advice and comments of BJPS Editor Shaun Bowler and the anonymous reviewers. He also wishes to acknowledge advice or feedback from Michael Bailey, Matt Barreto, Adam Berinsky, Jorge Bravo, Rafaela Dancygier, Zoe Dobkin, John Dovidio, James Druckman, Jennifer Fitzgerald, Katherine Foley, Richard Fording, Patrick Gavin, Desha Girod, Justin Grimmer, Todd Hartman, Yuen Huo, Gregory Huber, Michael Jones-Correa, Cheryl Kaiser, Douglas Kovel, Gabriel Lenz, Neil Malhotra, Yotam Margalit, Helen Marrow, Marc Meredith, Jonathan Mummolo, Irfan Nooruddin, Mara Ostfeld, Mark Peffley, Robert D. Putnam, Deborah Schildkraut, John Sides, Paul Sniderman, Anton Strezhnev, William Tamplin, Van C. Tran, Amelia Whitehead, Abigail Fisher Williamson, Matt Wright, Cara Wong, and Marzena Zukowska. He further acknowledges helpful feedback from seminar participants at Columbia University, George Washington University, the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Princeton University, the University of Chicago, the University of Kentucky, Yale University, and the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. The author also expresses deep appreciation to Ileana Aguilar, Belisario Contreras, Franco Gonzalez, Benjamin Hopkins, Pablo Leon, Alejandro Gonzalez Martinez, Eusebio Mujal-Leon, Elizabeth Saunders, Grace Soong, and especially Randy Bell and Stefan Subias for assistance in video production and experimental implementation. Robert Jones and Daniel Cox of the Public Religion Research Institute generously provided focus group transcripts. A supplementary online appendix and replication data and code are available at

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