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Nativism in the 1990s


Wang, Fang (1998) Nativism in the 1990s. Dissertation (Ph.D.), California Institute of Technology. doi:10.7907/64et-0t20.


This dissertation is motivated by the desire to understand the origin of intergroup hostility. One issue that divided many Americans in the 1990s is the issue of immigration. Starting with Proposition 187 in California, a wave of nativism has raised the concern that diversity leads to polarization in this society.

Drawing from theories of inter-group relations, I examine how Americans perceive new immigrants and form preferences on immigration policies. I use empirical data analysis to test whether it was interest conflict and/ or personal prejudice that motivated a wave of legislation for decreased immigration and restrictions on social welfare payments to immigrants.

With careful differentiation of issues and individuals, I show that most Americans use personal prejudice, such as racial stereotypes or egalitarian beliefs, to form perceptions on immigrants, independent of their views on current economic conditions. Due to the opposite effects exerted by personal prejudice against racial minorities and traditional values of egalitarianism, most Americans are facing a dilemma in their attitudes toward immigrants.

Yet, attitudes do not translate directly to policy preferences. When presented with the choices on public policies, most Americans reveal the rational side of opinion formation. The referents of economic performance or personal economic well being had significant influences on policy preferences. For racial minorities, they even set aside personal sentiment in order to· achieve strategic and long-term interests.

The extensive data analysis in this dissertation is designed to achieve a more important goal. As the controversy between the theory of realistic conflict and the theory of prejudice grows with each new study, I challenge both theories' assumptions of ubiquity. With survey data complimenting aggregate data, and national, state, and local data cross-validating each other, I show that the very perception of realistic conflict bear the imprint of personal prejudice.

Substantively, this work contributes to the understanding of nativism in the 1990s. It shows that desegregation and economic progress by minority groups can help bridge gaps in this society. Theoretically, I demonstrate that the logic of opinion formation is contingent upon the content, context and consequences of the issue.

Item Type:Thesis (Dissertation (Ph.D.))
Subject Keywords:Social Science
Degree Grantor:California Institute of Technology
Division:Humanities and Social Sciences
Major Option:Social Science
Thesis Availability:Public (worldwide access)
Research Advisor(s):
  • Alvarez, R. Michael (advisor)
  • Border, Kim C. (co-advisor)
Thesis Committee:
  • Alvarez, R. Michael (chair)
  • Katz, Jonathan N.
  • Kiewiet, D. Roderick
  • Sherman, Robert P.
  • Border, Kim C.
Defense Date:11 May 1998
Record Number:CaltechTHESIS:06292020-125059698
Persistent URL:
Default Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:13826
Deposited By: Kathy Johnson
Deposited On:29 Jun 2020 19:59
Last Modified:04 Jun 2024 21:46

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