Priming Legality: Perceptions of Latino and Undocumented Latino Immigrants

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Previous work has shown public opinion toward immigrants is malleable based on how immigrants are described in media and elite rhetoric. In a survey experiment on a nationally representative sample of American adults, we extend this research to test for possible priming effects that occur based on how salient documentation status is when respondents proffer opinions on Latino immigrants. Our findings show that when subjects are first asked about “undocumented Latino immigrants,” their attitudes toward “Latino immigrants,” appear more negative, relative to when they are first asked about “Latino immigrants” without invoking the legal modifier. Respondents channel their negative associations with “illegal” or “undocumented” immigration into their opinions of Latino immigrants writ large. The results have implications for political communication, media reporting on immigration, and policy debates, which frequently discuss both “legal” and “undocumented” immigration in the same context.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)106-113
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Politics Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Latino politics
  • immigration
  • priming
  • public opinion


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