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Fear and Learning in the Illegal Immigration Debate
Unformatted Document Text:  are salient, as in the case of immigration policy, we expect that Latinos may use group membership as a basis for attitudes and also as a mechanism for evaluating information. In their analysis of Latino voters’ political sophistication, Pantoja and Segura (2003) argue that the hostile political environment surrounding Proposition 187 prompted California immigrants to become more politically informed. While our general hypothesis is that anxiety will lead people to pay attention to threatening information, resulting in more punitive attitudes towards immigrants, we expect that a different mechanism is at play for many Latinos. Latino opposition to anti-immigration measures suggests that either anxiety did not cause them to pay more attention to threatening information in the 187 campaign, or if it did, we expect that they engaged in counterarguing based on their strong initial policy preference (Meffert et al 2006). Our experimental design will allow us to tease apart these possibilities. Motivated reasoning theory predicts that in order to maintain cognitive-affective balance, individuals both search for and attend to information that reinforces pre-existing beliefs (Kunda 1987; Lodge, Taber, and Galonsky 1999; Lodge and Taber 2000; Redlawsk 2002). 1 Information congruent with existing beliefs is easily assimilated while incongruent information is processed more slowly and may be discounted, counterargued, or ignored, depending on the amount (Redlawsk 2002). However, there is an alternative mechanism by which motivated reasoning may bias information processes. The motivation to maintain beliefs might either directly bias the types of information which individuals choose to be exposed to, as suggested by previous theorists, or information processing may be biased indirectly through shaping anxiety. In this process, threatening policy appeals will cause anxiety among citizens with already formed policy preferences because they are already cognitively and affectively invested in their positions. If 1 In motivated reasoning, affect and cognition are intertwined; citizens give each piece of information that they encounter an affective tag. As citizens encounter new information, existing knowledge and beliefs and affect are simultaneously activated, and individuals are motivated to maintain current affect. 8

Authors: Gadarian, Shana. and Albertson, Bethany.
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are salient, as in the case of immigration policy, we expect that Latinos may use group
membership as a basis for attitudes and also as a mechanism for evaluating information. In their
analysis of Latino voters’ political sophistication, Pantoja and Segura (2003) argue that the
hostile political environment surrounding Proposition 187 prompted California immigrants to
become more politically informed. While our general hypothesis is that anxiety will lead people
to pay attention to threatening information, resulting in more punitive attitudes towards
immigrants, we expect that a different mechanism is at play for many Latinos. Latino opposition
to anti-immigration measures suggests that either anxiety did not cause them to pay more
attention to threatening information in the 187 campaign, or if it did, we expect that they engaged
in counterarguing based on their strong initial policy preference (Meffert et al 2006). Our
experimental design will allow us to tease apart these possibilities.
Motivated reasoning theory predicts that in order to maintain cognitive-affective balance,
individuals both search for and attend to information that reinforces pre-existing beliefs (Kunda
1987; Lodge, Taber, and Galonsky 1999; Lodge and Taber 2000; Redlawsk 2002).
Information
congruent with existing beliefs is easily assimilated while incongruent information is processed
more slowly and may be discounted, counterargued, or ignored, depending on the amount
(Redlawsk 2002). However, there is an alternative mechanism by which motivated reasoning
may bias information processes. The motivation to maintain beliefs might either directly bias the
types of information which individuals choose to be exposed to, as suggested by previous
theorists, or information processing may be biased indirectly through shaping anxiety. In this
process, threatening policy appeals will cause anxiety among citizens with
already formed policy
preferences because they are already cognitively and affectively invested in their positions. If
1
In motivated reasoning, affect and cognition are intertwined; citizens give each piece of information that they
encounter an affective tag. As citizens encounter new information, existing knowledge and beliefs and affect are
simultaneously activated, and individuals are motivated to maintain current affect.
8


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