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The Politics of Inclusion: A Sense of Belonging to U.S. Society and Latino Political Participation


How do perceptions of belonging or lack of inclusion to American society influence political interest and political engagement? To date, there have been few inquiries that systematically investigate perceived belonging or lack of belonging to U.S. society and the political ramifications of these predispositions. This project addresses this puzzle and investigates how a sense of social belonging influences political engagement among Latinos, the largest, one of the fastest growing and most pivotal groups in American politics. To examine how varying perceptions of inclusion influence Latino political engagement, this project employs a novel framework ---the politics of inclusion framework--- and an original measure of perceived belonging to U.S. society. This multi-method project investigates what drives Latinos to have varying perceptions of social inclusion, and how a sense of perceived belonging to U.S. society, or lack thereof, influence Latino political participation. This project contends that feelings of belonging, social membership and inclusion are fundamental to political incorporation and subsequent political participation. The results indicate that Latinos' perceptions of inclusion to U.S. society are a function of income, gender, generation and, most importantly, experiences of discrimination. Experimental evidence shows that when primed with a hostile message Latinos are more likely to report lower perceptions of belonging to U.S. society. Furthermore, the findings reveal that a sense of belonging is a unique and independent predictor of political interest and various forms of electoral and non-electoral political engagement for Latinos. This project finds that perceptions of belonging to U.S. society, as well as perceived sense of respect by other Americans, are strongly associated with higher levels of political engagement for Latinos. This project extends our overall understanding of Latino political behavior at a time when the presence of Latinos is transforming the electorate and all of U.S. society. The findings of this dissertation also have significant and broad implications for the political behavior of blacks, Asian Americans, Muslim Americans and members of other minority groups who face similar experiences of exclusion and for whom a sense of belonging to America is not a given. Furthermore, the contribution of this project spans beyond race and ethnic politics and it brings into consideration the important role of psychological perceptions of belonging, or lack of belonging, to the national community for political behavior more broadly.

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