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Published March 2000 | public
Journal Article

The Resurgence of Nativism in California? The Case of Proposition 187 and Illegal Immigration


Objective. We propose a new explanation for the appeal of Proposition 187 to California voters during the 1994 election and offer a new approach to studying the political context in which it gained voter approval. We argue that support for this proposition was an example of cyclical nativism, which was provoked primarily by California's economic downturn during the early 1990s. We also argue that the issue of illegal immigration was politicized during the election by the gubernatorial and senatorial candidates and that this endogeneity must be considered in any analysis of voter support for this proposition. Methods. To test this theory, we develop hypotheses about how nativist attitudes might be reflected in the voting behavior of specific groups based on economic perceptions, race, education, and area of residence. We test these hypotheses using Voter News Service (VNS) exitpoll data from the 1994 California election. We formulate a two-stage probit model to allow for the endogeneity. Results. We find support for our nativist theory and our endogeneity argument in the data. Voters who perceived the economy as poor, perceived themselves as threatened financially by illegal immigrants, or who lived closer to the immigrant source were more likely to support the measure. We also find that voters were relying on candidate endorsements, rather than on party identification or political ideology, in making their vote choice. Conclusions. These findings cause us to conclude, specifically, that nativism, fueled by economic conditions, was a salient factor leading many Californians to support Proposition 187 and, generally, that it is necessary to consider the effects of candidate endorsements on proposition voting.

Additional Information

© 2000 University of Texas Press. We thank Garrett Glasgow, Carol Pierannanzi, and Fang Wang for their helpful discussions and Gail Nash for her assistance. The John Randolph Haynes and Dora Haynes Foundation provided support for this research through a Faculty Fellowship to Alvarez. An earlier version of this work was presented at the Southern Political Science Association Annual Meeting, November 1996.

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October 23, 2023