Collective Social Capital, Outgroup Threat, and Americans’ Preference for Restrictive Immigration

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Throughout parts of the Western world, populist nationalism has gained increasing momentum. Despite cross-national differences in populist leaders and parties, one common feature stands out: xenophobic prejudice. This paper examines in the U.S. context, first, a common assumption linking outgroup threat perception with support for restrictive immigration. Second, more importantly, this paper tests how and the extent to which collective (state-level) social capital independently influences the American citizens’ anti-immigrant attitudes, as well as whether it moderates the association between outgroup threat and preference for restricting immigration. Multilevel models based on a nationally representative sample show that people who hold higher perceptions of outgroup threat are indeed more likely to oppose immigration. By contrast, living in a state endowed with more social capital is associated with pro-immigration attitudes. Last, the association between security threat and anti-immigrant preference is weaker (stronger) in states with higher (lower) measures of social capital.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)331-354
Number of pages24
JournalSociological Perspectives
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

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  • anti-immigrant attitudes
  • economic concern
  • outgroup threat
  • security concern
  • social capital


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