Political Behavior, Vol. 25, No. 3, September 2003 ( 2003)
FEAR AND LOATHING IN CALIFORNIA:
Contextual Threat and Political
Sophistication Among Latino Voters
Adrian D. Pantoja and Gary M. Segura
Environments having candidates or policies deemed threatening to an individual or
group have previously been found to trigger feelings of anxiety that in turn motivate
people to closely monitor political affairs. Racially charged ballot propositions, and
the strong feelings they evoked, made California in the mid-1990s just such an envi-
ronment for Latino citizens—resulting, we believe, in higher levels of political infor-
mation. Using the Toma
sRivera Policy Institute’s 1997 postelection survey of Hispanic
citizens, we compare levels of political knowledge between naturalized and native-
born Latino citizens in California and similarly situated Latino citizens in Texas. We
find that, as a result of these highly publicized and controversial initiatives, Latino
immigrants in California (a) are more likely than native-born Latinos and Latinos out-
side California to perceive racial issues as most important, and (b) manifest higher
levels of political information than their fellow native-born Latinos and Latino citizens
outside of California, controlling for other well-recognized predictors of political in-
Key words: sophistication; information; threat; Latinos; ballot initiatives; Proposition
Political behaviors and attitudes are explicitly tied to their political context
(Hero and Tolbert, 1996; Huckfeldt, 1979; Huckfeldt and Sprague, 1988).
Political contexts where actual or perceived threats are present have been
found to induce a variety of political responses, from effects in preadult social-
Authors names are presented alphabetically.
An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political
Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 2001.
Adrian D. Pantoja, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Connect-
icut, 341 Mansfield Road, U-24, Storrs, CT 06269-1024 (Adrian.Pantoja@uconn.edu). Gary M.
Segura, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Iowa, 341 Schaeffer
Hall, Iowa City, IA 52242 (firstname.lastname@example.org).
0190-9320/03/0900-0265/0 2003 Plenum Publishing Corporation