The Seeds of Ideology: Historical Immigration and Political Preferences in the United States
Can the history of earlier immigration affect the politics of today? The “assimilation” debate of today shows little change in the long-held positions among immigration restrictionists, who argue that immigrants’ failure to assimilate is a danger to the American way of life. However, authors of The Seeds of Ideology: Historical Immigration and Political Preferences in the United States argue that current residents of U.S. counties with a higher proportion of immigrants who were exposed to welfare state reforms in Europe prior to their arrival between 1910 and 1930 have influenced the political landscape through their support of more liberal ideological positions, such as redistribution of wealth. So, while studies on short-run political effects of immigration show a negative association with natives’ preferences for redistribution, the less-studied, long-run impact on American ideology shows an enduring effect of home-country ideology. Published by the Harvard Business School, the report utilizes census data and the Cooperative Congressional Election Study to show that the long-term presence of immigrants leads to higher social cohesion and a generally stronger desire for generous government spending. While many studies have argued the earlier waves of immigrants have influenced American culture in areas of music and cuisine, the authors believe that their study is “the first to systematically document a similar impact on economic preferences and on political ideology.” For example, residents of counties at the 75th percentile of the historical immigrant share are 5.2 percent more likely to support welfare spending than individuals in counties at the 25th percentile. The authors highlight that assimilation is not a one-way street, but rather that immigrants’ convergence toward the new culture can be accompanied by their value transmissions to natives, thus fostering a more open and “complex” society.
Giuliano, P. & Tabellin, M. (2020, July). The Seeds of Ideology: Historical Immigration and Political Preferences in the United States. Harvard Business School. https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/20-118_c98ca039-ab5c-4816-b8cd-a5b2e582c882.pdf