URI political science professor says antipathy toward undocumented immigrants among Democrats risks fracturing support for social welfare

KINGSTON, R.I., Nov. 25, 2013 – A University of Rhode Island assistant political science professor has co-authored an article for the London School of Economics and Political Science Blog that finds Democratic support for social welfare programs in the United States depends on who people think the programs will benefit.

In a recent article written with Laura S. Hussey, URI Professor Shanna Pearson-Merkowitz concludes that antipathy toward undocumented immigrants among Democrats risks fracturing support for social welfare policies.

“While Republicans tend to be against social welfare programs regardless of the recipients,” Pearson-Merkowitz writes, “Democrats with the most unfavorable feelings toward undocumented immigrants are 20 percent more likely to oppose implementing welfare policies, such as a national health insurance program, than are pro-immigrant Democrats.”

The article discusses that Democrats and Republicans have very different ideas about how much social welfare the federal government should provide. Republican views regarding welfare are grounded in their ideology about limited government, she said. In general, Democrats are predisposed to support social welfare programs and have consistently voted for future expansion of welfare benefits, such as housing and food stamps.

“A key lesson of this research for Democrats is that forging a consensus on social welfare expansion within their own party may require taking into account public antipathy toward undocumented immigrants,” Pearson-Merkowitz and Hussey wrote.

Research quoted in the article includes Americans polled as part of the 2004 and 2008 American National Election Studies. They were asked to rate their feelings toward “illegal immigrants” on a scale of 0-100 with 0 indicating very unfavorable feelings and 100 very favorable. On average, the public rated undocumented immigrants at 40, making them the most disliked of the 36 social groups the survey asks about.

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