Social Welfare Attitudes and Immigrants as a Target Population: Experimental Evidence
By Jake Haselswerdt, University of Missouri
What makes some Americans assume that social welfare programs will benefit immigrants rather than native-born Americans? How do these assumptions shape their attitudes about policy? Recent observational research has shown that immigration attitudes and social welfare attitudes are strongly correlated, but we lack evidence of exactly how this relationship works. In this pre-registered survey experiment, I study respondents’ assumptions about beneficiaries of a generic social welfare policy, and test the effects of different “threat” primes on the assumption that the policy benefits immigrants rather than native-born Americans. I find that a prime constructing immigrants as a fiscal threat increases the likelihood that a respondent will make this assumption, while a prime emphasizing cultural or demographic threat has no significant effect. These effects vary by geographic context, but not by relevant attitudes. Attitudes about immigration become an important predictor of policy approval when this assumption is triggered.