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Exploring the Contextual Determinants of Individual Attitudes toward Immigrants and Criminal Activity and their Spillover Policy Implications



Immigrants are routinely tied to a range of social problems in the policy making process in the US political system. Little is known however about the extent to which citizens hold attitudes that connect immigrants to particular social problems and whether these attitudes spill over to influence citizens’ preferences toward specific public policy alternatives that might appear to be largely independent of immigrants and immigration. Investigating the nexus between immigration and crime, we ask how Anglo whites’ contextual environments influence their propensity to link immigrants to a salient social pathology like crime. Results show that whites living in states where immigrant populations have increased most dramatically and in states with lower socioeconomic characteristics are more likely to associate immigration with increased criminal activity. Whites’ attitudes toward immigration-induced crime has important spillover implications to the larger public policy making process as whites who view immigrants as a cause of criminal activity are more likely to support tougher criminal sentencing and the death penalty.