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Political Attitudes and Ideologies of Multiracial Americans: The Implications of Mixed Race in the United States

Article excerpt

A contemporary rise in multiracial self-identification provokes a number of questions about the significance that this racial identity may hold for American politics. This research focuses on the political attitudes of multiracial Americans to determine how multiracial identities may influence individual public opinion. I offer a test of three competing theoretical models of multiracial political attitude formation: Classic Assimilation, Minority Trumping, and New Identity Formation. This research finds that, generally, multiracial individuals who self-identify as such develop political opinions that parallel with their minority counterparts.

Keywords: racial identity; multiracial; race relations; public opinion

In contemporary political participation and public opinion scholarship, evidence has shown that racial or ethnic identities help shape individual political behavior and attitudes (Barreto 2007; Chong and Kim 2006; Dawson 1994; DeSipio 1996; Lien, Conway, and Wong 2004; Rogers 2006; Tate 1994; Wong 2006). Yet, there is one form of racial identity that may be particularly informative about the role of racial identities in politics but has been overlooked in the scholarship: mixed race or multiracial identities.1 Demographic patterns tell us that the issue of multiracial identities will increasingly become part of the country's debate on race relations. While multiracial Americans make up approximately 2.4 percent of the population in 2000, Smith and Edmonston (1997) estimate that the multiracial population could make up as much as 21 percent of the population by 2050.2 But even more importantly, today's multiracial population can have significant theoretical implications for the study of racial and ethnic politics given that these are identities that represent racial categories (or a racial category) whose meanings and positioning on the racial hierarchy are in virtual flux. The ambiguous and uncertain impact of multiracial identities on politics raises a number of questions regarding the trajectory of racial identities in the United States. Understanding the formation and application of multiracial identities on political behavior may provide fruitful answers to how sustaining racial identities are in politics.

To address the issue of multiracial identification in politics, this article focuses on racial self-identification and examines the relationship between multiracial identities and political attitudes. I ask the questions: what are the political attitudes of multiracial individuals, and how do they compare with those of their monoracial counterparts? To answer these questions I test three competing theoretical models on multiracial political attitude formation: Classic Assimilation, Minority Trumping, and New Identity Formation. The Classic Assimilation model proposes that multiracial individuals will exhibit diminishing racial or ethnic attachment and will not use race based cues in their political choices. Alternatively, a Minority Trumping model posits that multiracial individuals will integrate into one of their racial minority ancestry groups, continuing the race paradigm seen today. Finally, the New Identity Formation model contends that multiracial individuals will construct their own racial identity as specifically multiracial. This alternative multiracial identity may encourage the formation of distinctive political interests on behalf of a separate multiracial identity group.

The remainder of this article expands on the premises outlined above. The first section of the article lays out the background and theoretical assumptions needed to begin the empirical analyses. In this section, I outline why an analysis of political attitudes is an ideal method to understand racial group attachment among multiracial individuals and further develop the three theoretical models. In the second section of the article, I use public opinion data to test the research hypotheses derived from these theoretical models. …