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The Politics of Cultural Diversity: Racial and Ethnic Mass Attitudes in California


It is hardly debatable that race and ethnicity play a critical role in American society and politics (Myrdal 1944; Dahl 1972). Even in the face of myriad civil rights laws at the state, local, and federal levels, racial and ethnic inequalities persist (Wilson 1987). This condition is compounded by the fact that America is undergoing significant changes in terms of its ethnic and racial composition (Glazer 1985; Kitano and Daniels 1988). Recent estimates suggest that non-Hispanic Whites will cease to be a numerical majority sometime in the early 21st century and that the state of California is at the forefront of this trend (Bouvier and Gardener 1986).

One of the more fundamental questions about the dynamics of ethnic diversity concerns its impact on American politics. Social scientists have tended to concentrate on the behavioral aspects between and among the various American racial and ethnic groups.Thus there is ample literature on Black political participation (Browning, Marshall and Tabb 1984; Danigelis 1978; 1982; Gilliam and Bobo 1988; Gutterbock and London 1983; Jackson 1987; London and Hearn 1977; Miller 1982; Olsen 1970; Shingles 1981; and Verba and Nie 1972). There has also been work done comparing the participation levels and styles of Blacks and Mexican-Americans (Antunes and Gaitz 1975; Lovrich and Marenin 1976). Moreover, in the last ten or so years some research has focused solely on Mexican-American participatory behavior (Buehler 1977; Flores 1986; MacManus and Cassel 1982; Welch 1977; Welch, Comer and Steinman 1975). Most recently, studies have begun to emerge which examine participatory behavior among Asian-Americans (Nakanishi 1986) and which analyze differential participation rates and styles among several racial and ethnic minorities (Uhlaner, Cain and Kiewiet 1987). The social science literature on race and ethnicity, however, has been conspicuously silent on the consequences of ethnic diversity for mass orientations towardpolitics.1

The central focus of this paper is on the extent to which racial and ethnic differences account for variations in mass political attitudes. In other words, are group differences manifest as differential policy preferences both between and within groups? To answer this question, I analyze attitudinal divergence among Whites, Blacks, Mexican-Americans, and several Asian-American groups in the state of California. I begin by reviewing three theoretical perspectives on cultural integration in the United States. After a brief discussion of data and methodological issues, I utilize multivariate regression models to test hypotheses generated by the literature.

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