Asian and Latino American Political Conceptualization: A Dual-Concept Model

AuthorBang Quan Zheng
Published date01 March 2023
Date01 March 2023
Subject MatterArticles
American Politics Research
2023, Vol. 51(2) 182196
© The Author(s) 2022
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1532673X221132479
Asian and Latino American Political
Conceptualization: A Dual-Concept Model
Bang Quan Zheng
A central challenge for citizens is to understand how their political system works. The classic Levels of Conceptualization
measure proposed in The American Voter provided an answer for White Americans in the 1950s, but has limited relevan ce today
for citizens of non-European ancestry. Expanding on the work of Campbell et al., this paper develops a measure of Political
Conceptualization that combines views about parties and candidates with views on personal identity and ethnic fairness. The
measure is based on open-ended responses in a survey of Asian Americans and Latinos. Results show how, across these quite
different domains of politics, citizens vary in their Political Conceptualizations from narrow and concrete to broad and abstract.
Results highlight the challenge for political organizers in building coalitions among citizens who vary in their unde rstanding of
how politics works.
political socialization, political cognition, politicized identity, latent variable modeling, Asian American and Latino politics
Tens of millions of recent Asian American and Latino im-
migrants to the United States and their children have become
strong partisans and regular participants in the political
process. Their turnout rates in presidential elections now
approach those of native-born Americans and, in contrast to
most White Americans, they lean toward the Democratic
Party (Hajnal & Lee, 2011;Huddy et al., 2016;Sears et al.,
2016;Wong et al., 2011). The question addressed in this
paper is how these new citizens in particular, Asian
Americans and Latinos understand the political system and
their place in it.
The leading answer to this question for White citizens was
proposed by Campbell, Converse, Miller and Stokes in their
classic work, The American Voter (1960). In their Levels of
Conceptualizationtypology, these scholars argued that only
a small fraction of Americans understood politics as most
elites did, as a battle of opposing ideologies, liberal and
conservative. Most Americans, rather, thought about politics
in less abstract and more concrete terms. The modal voter
viewed parties in terms of the benef‌its they confer on groups
such as business, working people, and farmers. The next
biggest cluster of citizens viewed politics in even more
concrete terms, perceiving the parties simply as purveyors of
good or bad times. At what the University of Michigan
scholars took to be the lowest level of conceptualization, a
still substantial fraction of Americans offered no political
content when asked about the two parties and their candi-
dates, commenting instead on such matters as mudslinging,
campaign lies, and a candidates divorce.
The American Votersfour-level scheme makes a useful
starting point for analysis of how Asian Americans and
Latinos understand the American political system. Like other
Americans, members of these groups care what values the
parties stand for, how the parties are organized, and which
party is more likely to deliver valued group benef‌its and good
times (Alvarez & Garcia Bedolla, 2003;Huddy et al., 2015;
Uhlaner & Garcia, 2005). But as a tool for characterizing how
these groups think about politics, the typology has a glaring
def‌iciency: It takes no account of ethnicity. Lewis-Beck et al.
(2008) has pointed out the def‌iciencies in conceptualization
of partisanship and politicized identity. This shortcoming
ref‌lects the typologys creation in the 1950s when most voters
were White and largely unconscious of ethnicity. Conditions
are obviously different today for Asian Americans and La-
tinos. Most of these new citizens are conscious of their an-
cestry, feel that they have suffered discrimination because of
School of Government & Public Policy, Social Sciences #315, University of
Arizona, Tucson, AZ, USA
Corresponding Author:
Bang Quan Zheng, School of Government and Public Policy, 1145 E. South
Campus Drive, P.O. Box 210027, Tucson, AZ 85721-0027, USA.

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