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Return of the Nativists?: California Public Opinion and Immigration in the 1980s and 1990s

  • Elliott R. Barkan
Abstract

Anti-immigrant sentiments in California during the early 1990s raised questions about that state's association with nativism, the impact of recessions on public anxieties, and the validity of public opinion polls in measuring related attitudes and concerns. A series of California Field Polls administered statewide between 1982 and 1998 (most samples exceeding 1,000 persons) were used to examine Californians’ attitudes regarding legal and illegal immigration, amnesty for undocumented aliens, identification cards for immigrants, and job competition between immigrants and Americans. Employing cross-tabulations and logistic regression, the study found a consistent relationship between responses to the issues and such demographic variables as political ideology, education, age, income, Protestant religion, and Latino ethnicity as well as between those responses and shifts in respondents’ financial perceptions and expectations. The study concludes that California was more likely a microcosm of the nation, reflecting its dual attitudes toward immigrants, rather than the leader of a neonativist movement.

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