Latino Independents and Identity Formation Under Uncertainty (Working Paper #89)
Zoltan Hajnal, University of California – San Diego
Abstract: Since the 1950s, there has been roughly a two-fold rise in the proportion of Americans who identify as political Independents. We argue that the ethnic and immigrant experiences of Latinos shed new light on why and how individuals self-identify with a political party. For Latinos, we argue, party identification is defined by social and political identity formation under uncertainty. We argue that for immigrant-based ethnic groups like Latinos, identification as Independent is a rationally adaptive strategy given uncertainty and ambivalence about one’s social group attachments, one’s core political predispositions, and the benefits of political and civic involvement to pursue the individual and group interests of Latinos in the US. Absent home-grown and wellgrooved habits, the category of Independent affords a safe harbor for many Latinos from which to bank experiences and impressions about political life in the US. We test our account using data from 1989-1990 Latino National Politics Study, the 1993-1994 Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality and the American National Election Studies.