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A Tale of Two Counties: Natives’ Opinions Toward Immigration in North Carolina1


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    A version of this paper was presented at the 2009 annual meetings of the Population Association of America, Detroit. The data collection was supported by a grant from the Russell Sage Foundation. We acknowledge institutional support from the Office of Population Research, and NIH (#5 T32 HD007163 and #5 R24 HD047879). Contact with any questions.


This article compares native residents’ opinions and perceptions regarding immigration using a representative survey from a pair of matched North Carolina counties – one that experienced recent growth of its foreign-born population and one that did not. Drawing from several theoretical perspectives, including group threat, contact theory, and symbolic politics, we formulate and empirically evaluate several hypotheses. Results provide limited evidence that competition and threat influence formation of opinions about immigration, with modest support for claims that parents with school-aged children harbor more negative views of immigration than their childless counterparts. Except for residents in precarious economic situations, these negative opinions appear unrelated to the immigrant composition of the community. Claims that the media promotes negative views of immigration receive limited support, but this relationship is unrelated to the volume of local immigration. Finally, sustained contacts with foreign-born residents outside work environments are associated with positive views of immigration, but superficial contacts appear to be conducive to anti-immigration sentiments. Political orientation, educational attainment, and indicators of respondents’ tolerance for diversity explain most of the difference between the two counties in overall support for immigration.