New research suggests a significant relationship between Latino identity and political ideology. The study, led by a Nevada State College (NSC) psychologist, found that U.S. born Mexicans who were less strongly identified with their Mexican heritage were less liberal in their political ideology. Mexican-Americans and more broadly, Latinos, are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S. and an important voting demographic.

“Our research may explain why some Latinos are less put off by Trump’s xenophobic, anti-immigrant rhetoric,” said lead author Laura P. Naumann, NSC assistant professor of psychology. “Although they might be forced to check the “Hispanic/Latino” box on a census form, some Latinos do not feel a strong affiliation to their ethnic culture and would prefer to adopt the label American.’ This strong allegiance to an American identity, even over one’s own ethnic heritage, is directly in line with Trump’s message.”

The study surveyed 323 U.S. born Mexican Americans about their political ideology, socioeconomic status, the strength of their identification with Mexican and American cultures, as well as their attitudes towards acculturating to American culture. The study is published online in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science and co-authored with Verónica Benet-Martínez (ICREA Professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra; Barcelona, Spain) and Penelope Espinoza (The University of Texas at El Paso).

Those who strongly identified with Mexican culture were also more likely to support attitudes that encouraged the integration of both Mexican and American values and practices into one unified identity (e.g., “I feel that Mexicans should maintain their own cultural tradition, but also adapt to Anglo-American customs”). In contrast, those who held weak Mexican identification were more likely to support full assimilation to American culture (e.g., “I feel that Mexicans should adapt to Anglo-American cultural traditions and not maintain their own.”). The study´s results show that these differences in acculturation attitudes could partially explain why some participants were more or less liberal in their political ideology.

“It is not surprising that biculturally-identified Mexican Americans are more liberal and supportive of socially progressive values,” says Benet-Martínez, senior author of the study and professor of psychology. “The Democratic Party touts the country’s history as a ‘nation of immigrants.’ This branding, implicitly and explicitly, communicates that being American means being proud of all of the cultures and ethnicities that our nation is comprised of.”

One’s level of socioeconomic status also mattered for holding more liberal or conservative ideologies. In line with prior research, those in higher social classes were significantly less liberal, but this was most true for those participants who simultaneously belonged to higher social classes and had the weakest identification with Mexican culture.

On the precipice of the 2016 general election, both political parties want to maximize their appeal with Latino voters. Naumann cautions that cultural appeals may backfire with conservative Latinos because they make salient a cultural identity that is unimportant to this type of Latino, or lumps the Latino constituent into the cultural group that these individuals actively sought to minimize. Conservative candidates would have more success discussing issues that appeal to these Latino´s more salient American or upper class identities.

On the other hand, write the researchers, liberal Latinos gravitate towards candidates who value multiculturalism and who can demonstrate cultural awareness when referencing their group’s cultural traditions, practices, or language.

Study: Laura P. Naumann, Verónica Benet-Martínez, and Penelope Espinoza Correlates of Political Ideology Among U.S.-Born Mexican Americans: Cultural Identification, Acculturation Attitudes, and Socioeconomic Status Social Psychological and Personality Science, DOI: 1948550616662124, first published online August 11, 2016.

Social Psychological and Personality Science (SPPS) is an official journal of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), the Association for Research in Personality (ARP), the European Association of Social Psychology (EASP), and the Society for Experimental Social Psychology (SESP). Social Psychological and Personality Science publishes innovative and rigorous short reports of empirical research on the latest advances in personality and social psychology.