The Relevance of Media, Social Contact and Positive Contact on Stereotypes of Latinos

A recent Latino Decisions/National Hispanic Media Coalition (LD/NHMC) report explores the impact that media stereotypes of immigrants and Latinos have on non-Latinos’ negative attitudes toward these groups.  Some of the key findings highlighted in the report include: 1) news, entertainment media influence non-Latinos’ views of immigrants and Latinos, and 2) media portrayals of Latinos can heighten or diminish non-Latinos’ negative stereotypes of Latinos.  While the 2012 Latino Decisions report addresses several gaps in our understanding of the relationship between media and stereotypes of immigrants, there remain several more specific questions that must be addressed.  For instance, how do the views of non-Latinos exposed to images of Latinos as criminals compare to the views toward Latinos of those with no exposure?  How do avid Fox News viewers differ in their stereotypes of Latinos from those who are frequent MSNBC viewers?  Further, to what extent does social interaction with Latinos moderate the relationship between negative media exposure of immigrants and non-Latinos’ stereotypes of the Latino community? I address these questions using 2012 Latino Decisions/National Hispanic Media Coalition survey data of non-Latino respondents, primarily whites.

A common negative stereotype of Latinos is that they are criminals and gang members.  This stereotype is attributed to some extent by perceptions that some are here illegally and also to their participation in crime and gangs which is perpetuated by the mass media.  Figure 1 depicts non-Latinos’ support for the stereotype that Latinos are criminal versus law abiding.  As reflected in the figure, most have neutral views toward Latinos, though more non-Latinos view Latinos as law abiding than criminal.  When comparing non-Latinos’ views toward Latinos relative to views of blacks and whites, other analyses reveal that non-Latinos regard whites as more law abiding than blacks and Latinos, and Latinos as slightly less criminal than blacks.

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How do non-Latinos compare in their perception of Latinos as law abiding by television exposure of this group as criminals?  The results in Figure 2 illustrate that regardless of exposure to Latinos as members of gangs or criminals, most non-Latinos do not view Latinos as law abiding or criminal.  Yet, interestingly, those who are never exposed to Latinos as lawbreakers are almost three times more likely to believe that they are not criminal than those who often see Latinos as criminals on television shows.  Additionally, a staggering zero percent of non-Latinos who are not exposed to the negative stereotype believe that Latinos are criminals.  This is clear evidence that media portrayals of Latinos have influence on how this population is perceived.

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Since we know that those exposed to images of Latinos as gang members/criminals can differ in their opinions of Latinos from those who are not subjected to Latinos in a negative light, to what extent does social interaction condition the relationship between seeing Latinos as criminals and believing that they are delinquents?  The social contact hypothesis has been tested extensively in the racial and ethnic politics research, and numerous studies have found that increasing social contact with an outside group depresses one’s adoption of negative stereotypes toward that group.  Further, we know that direct, equal status and continuous contact (see Allport 1954) is not always necessary for social contact to counteract negative attitudes (Pettigrew 1998; Welch, Sigelman, Bledsoe and Combs 2001; Oliver and Wong 2003).  Preliminary analyses (not presented here) reveal that non-Latinos who see Latinos as delinquents on television are significantly more likely to believe that they are not law-abiding citizens.

What is more, among those who have no interaction with Latinos, exposure to Latinos in a negative light coincides with believing that Latinos are delinquents.  Figure 3 further explores these relationships and illustrates how social contact and exposure to Latinos as criminals influence non-Latinos’ belief that Latinos are lawbreakers (1). The results in Figure 3 reveal that among Latinos who are exposed to Latinos as lawbreakers and gang members, greater social interaction with them results in a decline in believing that they are criminals.  Other analyses examining the extent that positive contact with Latinos moderates the relationship between seeing Latinos as criminals and believing that they are criminals illustrate analogous results.  Clearly, for non-Latinos who see Latinos in a negative light, social contact (positive and considerable) depresses their inclination to regard Latinos adversely.

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Another negative attitude often attributed to immigrants, particularly Latinos, is that they are taking jobs from Americans.  While we have not reached a complete consensus as to whether this is so (McClain et al. 2007; Telles, Sawyer, Rivera-Salgado 2011), news media has focused on this topic for several decades and continues to do so today.  Figure 4 presents non-Latinos’ views as to whether Latinos provide Americans an employment disadvantage by reliance on liberal and conservative media sources.   The results in the figure reveal that some differences in the belief that Latinos take jobs exist between avid MSNBC (more liberal) viewers and devoted Fox News (more conservative) viewers.  Interestingly, the percentage of committed Fox News viewers who believe that “Latinos take jobs from Americans” describes Latinos somewhat well is more than double the percentage of MSNBC viewers.

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In order to further examine the relationship between media and attitudes toward Latinos, I analyze the effects of exposure to Fox News and social contact with Latinos on non-Latinos’ belief that Latinos pose an employment threat to Americans.  Preliminary analyses illustrate that there is a negative relationship between social interaction with Latinos and belief that they are taking jobs among those who are not exposed to Fox News.  That is, for those who are not avid Fox News viewers, increasing social contact with Latinos decreases beliefs that Latinos pose an employment threat to U.S. residents.

Figure 5 also presents some intriguing results(2).  Among non-Latinos with no contact with Latinos, those who have little to no exposure to Fox News media adopt slightly more support for the idea that Latinos take jobs from Americans than those who mostly watch Fox News shows.  Additionally, among those who mostly rely on Fox for their news, increased social interaction with Latinos coincides with a stronger belief that Latinos pose an employment threat to Americans.  This finding suggests that the unfriendly Latino rhetoric presented by the network is not counteracted by greater social contact with Latinos.  Actually, watching Fox News on a regular basis and being surrounded by Latinos may actually result in greater resentment toward Latinos.  As to the moderating effects of positive contact with Latinos on the relationship between exposure to Fox News and believing that Latinos take jobs, I find limited comparable results.  Still, among non-Latinos who are not devoted Fox News viewers, increasing positive contact with Latinos results in lower levels of people believing that Latinos pose an employment threat to Americans.

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What do all of these results mean?  As presented by the 2012 LD/NHMC survey report, news and entertainment media matter when it comes to non-Latinos’ (primarily whites) attitudes toward Latinos.  Non-Latinos’ negative stereotypes of Latinos are greatly structured by media portrayals of Latinos and media sources.  What is more, social contact and positive interactions also matter.  Significant and positive contact with Latinos have positive effects on attitudes toward Latinos for those who are greatly exposed to media portrayals of Latinos as criminals and for non-Fox News viewers.  Awareness of media biases and understanding of the power of contact is critical for improved race relations today.

Betina C. Wilkinson is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wake Forest University.

The commentary of this article reflects the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Latino Decisions. Latino Decisions and Pacific Market Research, LLC make no representations about the accuracy of the content of the article.

References:

Allport, Gordon. 1954. The nature of prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

McClain, Paula D., Monique L. Lyle, Niambi M. Carter, Victoria M. DeFrancesco Soto, Gerald F. Lackey, Kendra Davenport Cotton, Shayla C. Nunnally, Thomas J. Scotto, Jeffrey D.

Grynaviski, and J. Alan Kendrick. 2007. “Black Americans and Latino Immigrants in a Southern City: Friendly Neighbors or Economic Competitors?” Du Bois Review 4(1): 97-  117.

Oliver, J. Eric, and Janelle Wong. 2003. “Inter-group Prejudice in Multiethnic Settings.”American Journal of Political Science 47 (4): 567–82.

Pettigrew, Thomas. 1998. “Intergroup Contact Theory.” Annual Review of  Psychology 49:65-85.

Telles, Edward, Mark Q. Sawyer, and Gaspar Rivera-Salgado. 2011. Just Neighbors? Research on African American and Latino Relations in the United States. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Welch, Susan,  Lee Sigelman, Timothy  Bledsoe, and Michael Combs. 2001.  Race and Place:Race  Relations  in  an American City. New York: Cambridge  University Press.

Notes:

1 The figure presents predicted probabilities associated with the belief that Latinos are criminals for different values of variables measuring social contact with Latinos and exposure to Latinos as delinquents.  I generate the predicted probabilities holding other variables (age, gender, education) constant at their means.

2 The figure presents predicted probabilities associated with the belief that Latinos are taking jobs from Americans for different values of variables measuring social contact with Latinos and exposure to Fox News.  I generate the predicted probabilities holding other variables (age, gender, education) constant at their means.

 

 

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