The Seeds of Ideology: Historical Immigration and Political Preferences in the United States


We test the relationship between historical immigration to the United Statesand political ideology today. We hypothesize that European immigrants broughtwith them their preferences for the welfare state, and that this had a long-lastingeffect on the political ideology of US born individuals. Our analysis proceedsin three steps. First, we document that the historical presence of Europeanimmigrants is associated with a more liberal political ideology and with strongerpreferences for redistribution among US born individuals today. Next, we showthat this correlation is not driven by the characteristics of the counties whereimmigrants settled or other specific, socioeconomic immigrants’ traits. Finally,we conjecture and provide evidence that immigrants brought with them theirpreferences for the welfare state from their countries of origin. Consistent with thehypothesis that immigration left its footprint on American ideology via culturaltransmission from immigrants to natives, we show that our results are strongerwhen inter-group contact between natives and immigrants, measured with eitherintermarriage or residential integration, was higher. Our findings also indicatethat immigrants influenced American political ideology during one of the largestepisodes of redistribution in US history — the New Deal – and that such effectspersisted after the initial shock.

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Last updated on 06/20/2020