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The Politics of Belonging

Race, Public Opinion, and Immigration

The United States is once again experiencing a major influx of immigrants. Questions about who should be admitted and what benefits should be afforded to new members of the polity are among the most divisive and controversial contemporary political issues.

Using an impressive array of evidence from national surveys, The Politics of Belonging illuminates patterns of public opinion on immigration and explains why Americans hold the attitudes they do. Rather than simply characterizing Americans as either nativist or nonnativist, this book argues that controversies over immigration policy are best understood as questions over political membership and belonging to the nation. The relationship between citizenship, race, and immigration drive the politics of belonging in the United States and represents a dynamism central to understanding patterns of contemporary public opinion on immigration policy. Beginning with a historical analysis, this book documents why this is the case by tracing the development of immigration and naturalization law, institutional practices, and the formation of the American racial hierarchy. Then, through a comparative analysis of public opinion among white, black, Latino, and Asian Americans, it identifies and tests the critical moderating role of racial categorization and group identity on variation in public opinion on immigration.


The Politics of Belonging makes a profound contribution to the research on public opinion and immigration. Theoretically rich and innovative, it tackles the subject matter in an original and thought-provoking manner, deftly weaving a historical narrative of the creation of America’s immigration laws with the country’s racial hierarchy. Against this backdrop, Natalie R. Masuoka and Jane Junn offer a wealth of data to argue convincingly that public opinion on immigration is a reflection of racial attitudes.”

Marisa A. Abrajano, University of California, San Diego

The Politics of Belonging offers a timely, important, and forceful argument for how race and ethnicity structure the public’s understandings of American identity, racial/ethnic identity, and immigration policy. Natalie Masuoka and Jane Junn argue persuasively that a group’s position in the American social, economic, and political hierarchy influences how group members arrive at their views of who counts as an American and what shape immigration policy ought to take.”

Cindy D. Kam, Vanderbilt University

“Natalie Masuoka and Jane Junn pose the central political question in an era of global immigration: Who should belong inside a nation? Taking a social structural approach that incorporates racial hierarchy and group position theory, they embed public opinion in a broader historical account of law and institutional practices. And in analyzing the contrasting dynamics of opinion across America’s main ethnic and racial groups, they uncover the crucial moderating role played by group identities. The result is the most thorough and authoritative account of public opinion about immigration yet to be done.”

David O. Sears, University of California, Los Angeles

"Masuoka and Junn’s,The Politics of Belonging . . . covers new ground on understanding the attitudes and political beliefs of communities that are often left out of national discussions of politics. [An] important read."

Huffington Post

“Masuoka and Junn focus on American structural racism, particularly as it relates to immigration policy. . . . They persuasively argue that this structure is invisible to those who belong but clearly visible to those who have been deemed excluded, rendered invisible. . . . [The authors] write so clearly that this book is accessible to and recommended to all levels of readers.”


“There’s a consistent level of nuance and innovation in [The Politics of Belonging] that I find remarkable. . . . This book opens the door for new theories and new methods precisely because it asks us larger questions about how, when, and why researchers see meaningful boundaries between and within groups. In doing so, it makes the study of public opinion more complex, which is a welcome development indeed.”

Political Communication

“When studying public opinion regarding immigration, scholars tend to focus on the effect of partisanship or ideology on Americans’policy preferences. Rarely do political scientists consider factors like race or ethnicity as anything other than a simple control variable in the analysis. In The Politics of Belonging, however, Masuoka and Junn move the study of racial identity to centerstage by arguing that the distinct historical experiences of America’s largest racial groups—whites, African Americans, Latinos, and Asians—shape important differences in their attitudes toward immigration. But The Politics of Belonging is much more than a book about immigration; instead, it is a study of intergroup relations and the effects of the perceived racial hierarchy in American society. . . . A must-read.”

Political Science Quarterly

 “An original and important contribution to an understanding of immigration policy attitudes. . . . Masuoka and Junn provide a rich theoretical story of how one’s position in the American racial hierarchy influences one’s sense of belonging, which in turn affects opinions on immigration policy. The text deftly weaves together the development of the argument, with support backed up with empirics. The book is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding opinions on immigration, but the contribution goes well beyond that.”

Perspectives on Politics

The Politics of Belonging should be influential for public opinion scholars. It showcases several important surveys, raises the importance of interactive effects by race on individual attitudes, and offers new insight into opinion on the issue of immigration.”

International Migration Review

Politics of Belonging is ultimately a valuable text for the social sciences as it advances empirical examinations of the racial hierarchy. Masuoka and Junn provide an innovative quantitative approach to comparative race studies. One of the major strengths of their racial diamond model is its emphasis on malleability. They assert that ‘racial stereotypes are thus not obdurate constructs but specific to the time and context of political belonging’ and cite the changing positioning of Asian Americans as evidence of how dominant racist tropes for each group can change over time.”

Journal of Asian American Studies

Table of Contents

Introduction: Conditional Welcome

Chapter 1     Public Opinion through a Racial Prism
Chapter 2     Development of the American Racial Hierarchy: Race, Immigration, and Citizenship
Chapter 3     The Pictures in Our Heads: The Content and Application of Racial Stereotypes
Chapter 4     Perceptions of Belonging: Race and Group Membership
Chapter 5     The Racial Prism of Group Identity: Antecedents to Attitudes on Immigration
Chapter 6     Framing Immigration: “Illegality” and the Role of Political Communication
Conclusion: The Politics of Belonging and the Future of US Immigration Policy


American Political Science Association: Ralph J. Bunche Award

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