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Title: Vote Here? Immigrants to the United States and the Civic Duty to Vote
Authors: Kratzer, Evan
Advisors: Dancygier, Rafaela
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2016
Abstract: The United States is seeing its immigrant population grow at one of the fastest rates in history, a demographic shift that will assuredly bring substantial changes to the political arena. To understand the size of the political shift underway, scholars have studied immigrant political incorporation at length, finding that naturalized citizens have a lower voter turnout rate than native-born citizens. Studies have isolated several factors associated with resource deficiencies and institutional barriers to explain the gap in voter turnout. This thesis adds to the literature by conducting the first known study of whether immigrants feel a sense of civic duty to vote and are motivated to head to the polls at all. The literature on American voter turnout finds that sense of civic duty to vote is a strong predictor of voter turnout and that this relationship holds true particularly for those who live in politically homogeneous communities. I investigate whether these findings also apply to immigrants in the United States and examine which social or political factors may determine whether or not an immigrant develops a sense of civic duty to vote. To do this, I conducted a national survey of 770 immigrants and completed 16 follow-up interviews with select survey participants. I find that if an immigrant reports having a sense of civic duty to vote, the odds that she votes are substantially higher than for an immigrant without such a sense of civic duty. Immigrants who are members of civic organizations are also significantly more likely to have a civic motivation to vote, most likely because they define a good citizen as being active in community life. By contrast, neither the level of authoritarianism in an immigrant’s country of origin nor her level of contact with other immigrants from her country of origin are found to be associated with changes in voter turnout or prevalence of a sense of civic duty to vote. My interviews suggest that immigrants’ exposure to news, particularly news related to public corruption, and their understanding of democracy before emigration are influential in determining whether they develop a sense of civic duty to vote. Future research should utilize large-N analysis to investigate whether these relationships exist in the larger immigrant population. This thesis produces several policy recommendations stemming from its findings. Policymakers hoping to increase immigrant voter turnout should create programs that promote a sense of civic duty to vote among immigrants. These programs should encourage immigrants to see voting as part of a larger duty for each citizen to be an engaged member of her local communities. Policies should also target Asian American communities both because they have particularly low voter turnout rates and because Asian American voter turnout is strongly associated with feeling a sense of civic duty to vote.
Extent: 127 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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