Party Identification, Contact, Contexts, and Public Attitudes toward Illegal Immigration.Public Opin Q 2016; 80(1):1-25PO
Illegal immigration is a contentious issue on the American policy agenda. To understand the sources of public attitudes toward immigration, social scientists have focused attention on political factors such as party identification; they have also drawn on theories of intergroup contact to argue that contact with immigrants shapes immigration attitudes. Absent direct measures, contextual measures such as respondents' ethnic milieu or proximity to salient geographic features (such as borders) have been used as proxies of contact. Such a research strategy still leaves the question unanswered - is it contact or context that really matters? Further, which context, and for whom? This article evaluates the effects of party identification, personal contact with undocumented immigrants, and contextual measures (county Hispanic population and proximity to the US-Mexico border) on American attitudes toward illegal immigration. It finds that contextual factors moderate the effects of political party identification on attitudes toward illegal immigration; personal contact has no effect. These findings challenge the assumption that contextual measures act as proxies for interpersonal contact.