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Threat and Consciousness: The Activation of a Racialized Latino Identity


How does group threat impact Latino identity and political participation? While studies on Latinos in California have focused on threat as a political mobilizer, few studies have explored the role that threat plays on panethnic identity and the strengthening of group identity among different group members. This project addresses this puzzle by observationally exploring what has happened to a politicized group identity in the past, and employing the use of survey experiments to understand the role of group consciousness in Latino political participation.

This are three key contributions this dissertation makes to the political science literature on identity. The first is an examination of how political threat can influence politicized identity. My dissertation explores how identity shifts over time when Latinos face political threat. Combining seven different cross-sectional surveys from 1989-2004, I test the hypothesis that state level political threat in the form of anti-immigrant propositions (1994 – 1998) would increase levels of perceived discrimination, and perceived discrimination would be correlated with a politicized Latino identity among Latinos living in the state.

I find that perceived discrimination does increase during periods of threat, and is positively associated with identity. Identity levels remain high after periods of threat, but are no longer associated with discrimination, indicating that threat may serve as an activator. The lack of uniformity of identity measures across the surveys and the many different ways in which scholars have operationalized identity lead me to the second key contribution of my dissertation.

The second goal of my dissertation is to help us understand how to operationalize identity as a theoretical construct in political science. I examine three different identity constructs in political science and how they relate to Latino political participation. By reviewing the literature and examining how measures of identity centrality, group consciousness, and linked fate have been used in the past, and exploring these three measures in the 2016 CMPS, this project brings greater understanding of the link between these different identity measures, and their influence on political participation.

The third goal of my dissertation is to experimentally examine the role of threat on identity. I run a number of experiments where I examine how threat impacts identity and political participation. I also test whether threat might mediate group consciousness uniquely for different generational groups, and how this influences political participation.

This dissertation extends our overall understanding of the role of Latino identity in responding to threat, and the impact that this has on Latino political participation.

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