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Keywords:

  • immigration;
  • Latinos;
  • media priming;
  • ethnocentrism

General ethnocentrism seems to be a powerful antecedent of immigration opinion, typically displaying larger effects than economic concerns. News about immigration, however, may focus attention on a particular group in a given historical moment. We predict group-specific affect, not general ethnocentrism, should most powerfully shape immigration policy opinion in the contemporary United States. We test this expectation with content analyses of news coverage, survey data from 1992 to 2008, a survey experiment, and official statistics. First, we find that mentions of Latinos in news coverage of immigration outpace mentions of other groups beginning in 1994, the year when Proposition 187, a proposal in California to end most social welfare and educational assistance to illegal immigrants, garnered significant national attention. Second, while ethnocentrism dominates economic concerns in explanations of Whites' immigration policy opinions, attitudes toward Latinos in particular account for nearly all of the impact of ethnocentrism since 1994. Finally, journalistic attention to Latino immigration roughly parallels actual rates of immigration from Latin America, suggesting the media shaping of policy opinion around this group may be driven by real-world demographic patterns.