Marginalization as a Structural Constraint: How Group Position Shapes Out-Group Hostility

Published date01 December 2022
Date01 December 2022
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2022, Vol. 75(4) 11131130
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/10659129211043866
Marginalization as a Structural Constraint:
How Group Position Shapes Out-Group
Andrew Proctor
Theories of out-group hostility have long held that attitudes about marginalized groups are impo rtant predictors of policy
support. These theories, however, have mostly examined the attitudes of white people and sexual orientation has rarely
been a category of analysis. Thus, we know less about whether these theories are conditional on group position in racial
and sexual hierarchies. This paper argues that processes of marginalization sh ape out-group hostility. Using comparative
relational analysis, I examine support for pro-minority policies among white lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) people,
straight people of color and whites. I f‌ind that ethnocentrism is not a general predictor of out-group hostility among the
members of marginalized groups. Alternatively, group-targeted homophobia, racism, and nativism predict opposition to
pro-minority policies, but the members of marginalized groups have more egalitarian attitudes overall. These f‌indings
challenge long-held conventional wisdoms about prejudice, underscoring the importance of centering on marginalized
groups in public opinion.
race, sexuality, public opinion, immigration politics
On 12 December 2017, Alabama voters elected Demo-
cratic candidate Doug Jones to the United States Senate.
Leading up to his election, two civil rights organizations,
one representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender
(LGBT) people and one representing African Americans,
worked together to mobilize voters for Jones. In a similar
vein in July 2019, the Lambda Independent Democrats
(LID) of Brooklyn, an organization representing LGBT
Democrats in New York City, participated in #Close
TheCamps protests against policies under which children
have been detained by Immigration and Customs En-
forcement. These instances of mobilization on behalf of
another political out-group are examples in which the
members of marginalized social groups supported other
out-groups and pro-minority policies.
Contemporary American politics, however, also offers
examples of inter-minority conf‌lict. One of the more
notable examples of late are lawsuits and political orga-
nizing against aff‌irmative action by some Asian Ameri-
cans in states such as Washington, California, and New
York (McGurn 2019). According to these lawsuits, af-
f‌irmative action policies have prevented Asian American
students from being admitted to universities. This
emerging political conf‌lict pits Asian Americans against
other marginalized groups, particularly Black people and
Latinos. Recent survey data, however, shows that Asian
Americans are broadly supportive of aff‌irmative action,
although there is variation across Asian ethnic groups
(Asian American Voter Survey 2020: 20). These dy-
namics raise underexplored questions about how the
members of marginalized social groups form attitudes
about other out-groups and pro-minority policies.
Theories of out-group hostility have long held that
psychological predispositions are important determinants
of pro-minority policy support. Some scholars argue that
general measures of out-group hostility, such as ethno-
centrism (Kinder and Kam 2009), are the key determi-
nants of pro-minority policy support. Others, however,
Department of Politics and International Affairs, Winston-Salem, NC,
Corresponding Author:
Andrew Proctor, Department of Politics and International Affairs,
Winston-Salem, NC 27109.
argue that hostility toward the targeted out-group is the
key determinant of policy support, meaning, for example,
that racism predicts anti-Black attitudes and homophobia
predicts anti-gay attitudes (Gilens 1999;Kinder and
Sanders 1996;Mendelberg 2001). One issue with these
theories, however, is that they typically explain the atti-
tudes of dominant groups about policies affecting
members of marginalized groups. A growing body of
research, however, shows that out-group hostilities vary
across group and policy contexts (Hutchings and Wong
2014;Krupnikov and Spencer Piston 2016;Segura and
Valenzuela 2010;Strolovitch 1998). Likewise, studies
f‌ind that position in racial and sexual hierarchies shapes
identities and attitudes (Dawson 1994;Grollman 2018;
Masouka and Junn 2013). Thus, group position in sexual
and racial hierarchies might shape the political conse-
quences of out-group hostility in inter-minority contexts.
This paper develops a theory of marginalization as a set
of constituting structural attributes that affect out-group
hostility and pro-minority policy support. The central
hypothesis is that ethnocentrism is more likely to vary
across dominant and marginalized groups compared to
group-targeted hostility. I test my theory by examining
support for LGB rights, racial policies that help African
Americans, and increasing immigration, using pooled
time-series, cross sectional data from the 2004 to 2016
American National Election Studies (ANES). I f‌ind that
ethnocentrism is not, in fact, a general predictor of out-
group hostility. Instead, ethnocentrism and its political
consequences are contextual to ones place within sexual
and racial hierarchies. I also f‌ind that group-targeted
hostilities are more likely to predict opposition to pro-
minority policies across groups and that the members of
marginalized groups have more egalitarian attitudes.
Thus, centering analyses on the attitudes of marginalized
groups calls into question some fundamental assumptions
about universalexplanations of public opinion.
Ethnocentrism as a Measure of
Out-Group Hostility
Existing research on ethnocentrism def‌ines it as a psy-
chological predisposition in which people divide the
world into in-groups and out-groups, which develops
through social processes such as social learning and ed-
ucation (Kinder and Kam 2009:3133). In-groups and
out-groups form in relation to social categories that be-
come the objects of attitudes and affect (Adorno et al.
1950). Thus, an ethnocentric framework constructs
groups as either friendor foeand is a general outlook
on social difference or prejudice, broadly def‌ined (Kinder
and Kam 2009:42). Brewer and Campbell (1976) show
that in-group favoritism or prideis pervasive among
social groups, but others f‌ind in-group pride is compatible
with a range of attitudes about out-groups (Brewer 1999;
2007;Kinder and Kam 2009). Kinder and Kam (2009)
show that ethnocentrism predicts negative attitudes about
out-groups across different policy contexts, including
LGB rights, social assistance, and immigration.
Although we have learned a great deal about out-group
hostility and ethnocentrism, existing studies do not often
theorize about the role of power and marginalization.
Marginalization, however, might be consequential for
ethnocentrism because membership in a marginalized
group is not simply a demographic characteristic or a
product of personal preference but a structural attribute
imposed on an individual with important consequences
for individual life chances and political experiences
(Masuoka and Jane Junn 2013:5). Thus, the lived and
political experiences of members of marginalized groups
might affect the psychological processes through which
they divide the world into in-groups and out-groups and
form support for pro-minority policies. Kinder and Kam
(2009), for example, f‌ind that African Americans and
Latinos, but not Asian Americans and whites, were more
likely to view other groups as hardworking in their ste-
reotype construction of ethnocentrism. They acknowledge
that these differences across groups might be related to
their position in American society but do not incorporate
this possibility into their theory or analysis (see also
Brewer 2007).
Likewise, Tajfel (1982) argues that eth-
nocentrism might appear most consistently among
dominant groups. Scholars of social dominance theory
similarly f‌ind that out-group hostility and in-group
identif‌ication can be positively correlated among domi-
nant social groups and negatively correlated among
marginalized groups (Levin and Sidanius 1999;Levin,
Sidanius, Rabinowitz, Federico 1998). These studies all
suggest that ethnocentrism might be conditional to ones
position in social hierarchies, such as those constituted by
race and sexuality, rather than universal across groups.
Group-Targeted Hostility
Other theories argue that group-targeted hostilities are the
primary determinants of attitudes about LGB people,
African Americans, and immigrants and are rooted in the
internalization of cultural stigmas about them (Herek
2009;Kinder and Sanders 1996;Hainmueller and
Hopkins 2014). In this perspective, scholars argue that
out-group hostilities, such as homophobia, racism, and
nativism, are specif‌ic to the policy contexts that constitute
in-groups and out-groups. There is a growing literature on
whether explanations of public opinion are universal
across groups or contextual to position in racial and sexual
1114 Political Research Quarterly 75(4)

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