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Theses Doctoral

God Made the Country, and Man Made the Town: The Impact of Local Institutions on the Political Attitudes and Behavior of Immigrants and Minorities in the United States

Lasala-Blanco, Maria Narayani

Are all immigrants in the United States willing and able to integrate successfully within a liberal democratic polity? This research question guides the three papers included in the present dissertation. To explore this question I designed and implemented a multi-city survey in the United States (the American Cities Survey) which contains representative immigrant, black, white, Latino and Asian samples drawn independently for each locality. Based on the findings of the American Cities Survey, which include multiple attitudinal, cultural background and political behavior measures at the individual level, along with socioeconomic and demographic measures in six distinct local institutional environments, I argue that all voting eligible immigrants and immigrant communities-regardless of their native origin and their ancestral religious affiliation-- are willing and able to integrate politically so long as political institutions and contexts (especially local ones) provide them with the same exposure to the political system and institutions, and opportunities to participate in politics as the ones provided to all other citizens. I thereby challenge both the academic and popular perceptions that certain immigrant groups have anti-democratic and anti-liberal attitudes due to their shared cultural characteristics (i.e. religious affiliation or political socialization in a non-democratic polity) that persist even after migrating to a liberal democratic polity and are passed on to the second generation. I discover that the notion that Latinos vote less than similarly situated blacks and whites has persisted overtime for two reasons: first, simply because a greater proportion of Latinos have settled in localities where institutions tend to inhibit political competition and depress turnout, biasing representative national samples; second, because the smallest geographical unit one can study with existing survey and Census (CPS) data does not allow for exploration of political behavior at the individual level beyond the state. This is problematic for studying groups like Latinos, because 50 percent of their population is concentrated in three states and less than ten cities. I find that the results found at the national level are not replicable at the local level and Latino political participation varies by city. In localities where institutions provide incentives for political party competition the probability of a citizen of Latino origin voting is equal to that of blacks and whites of similar age, income and education. In other words, the evidence presented here suggests that the correlation found at the national level between Latino immigrant group membership and apolitical attitudes and behavior is of a contingent, perhaps even spurious nature, artifice of geographical concentration of members of this group in local institutional environments that depress political activity. The theoretical framework and findings of this dissertation reveal that immigrant political attitudes and behavior towards the host country's political system is shaped mostly by individual experiences with this system, and not by prior or inherited cultural or religious beliefs from their (or their ancestor's) country of origin.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Shapiro, Robert Y.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 22, 2014