It's how you know who you know: The impact of interpersonal contact on American attitudes toward immigration

Date of Completion

January 2006


American Studies|Political Science, General




This dissertation explores the impact of interpersonal contact on attitudes toward immigrants and immigration among Americans in several ways. It simultaneously tests for the impact of proximity and contact with immigrants in a national sample of American adults, it tests for the impact of different types of contact on attitudes toward immigrants and immigration, and it tests for these relationships in a variety of domains. ^ Research studying the relationship between intergroup contact and attitudes has traditionally taken two different approaches. One approach studies the impact of residential proximity on attitudes, while another approach studies direct contact between members of different groups. ^ This research develops and tests a model that articulates the impact that different types of contact has on immigration attitudes. Specifically, it stipulates that close personal contacts will lead to generally positive attitudes toward immigrants while more distant or impersonal contacts will lead to neutral attitudes toward immigrants. It also tests these models while controlling for the proximity to both foreign born individuals and undocumented immigrants. ^ This research finds that general proximity to immigrants leads to positive evaluations of the socio-cultural contributions of immigrants and immigration and lower levels of concern about the national security implications of immigration. In both of these cases, however, proximity to undocumented immigrants leads has an impact in the opposite direction. A close personal friendship with a recent immigrant leads to positive evaluations of immigrants in many areas. Additionally, attending the same church as an immigrant has a positive impact on attitudes toward overall immigration levels, cultural assimilation of immigrants, and lower levels of concern about the impact of immigration on national security. More distant and impersonal contact with immigrants generally has no impact on attitudes toward immigrants or immigration. However, coming into contact with an immigrant who is employed either in a professional office or in a domestic service situation leads to an increased willingness to restrict immigration in order to preserve jobs for American workers. Additionally, contact with an immigrant working in a domestic service setting also leads to a lower overall assessment of the socio-cultural impact of immigrants. ^