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Phenotypic Preference in Mexican Migrants: Evidence from a Random Household Survey

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Rosario AguilarORCiD



This is the authors' accepted manuscript of an article that has been published in its final definitive form by Springer, 2019.

For re-use rights please refer to the publisher's terms and conditions.


Does pre-existing preference based on skin tone, facial features, and other observable characteristics, i.e., phenotypic preference, affect immigrant voters’ support for political candidates competing in their countries of origin? Do these preferences change as migrants’ tenure in their host society increases? These questions are important for ethnic and racial politics in general, and particularly for the sizable foreign-born population in the United States, which includes 11 million Mexicans. Using a unique, random sample of foreign-born Mexicans in San Diego County, we employ a voting experiment to test the impact of skin tone and phenotype on vote choice among first generation immigrants. Our design allows us to distinguish responses to different phenotypic cues by exposing respondents to European, mestizo, and indigenous looking candidates competing in a hypothetical Mexican election. Migrants showed higher support for the Indigenous candidate, and evaluated the European and Mestizo candidates as more ideologically conservative. As migrants’ time in the United States increases, the preference for indigenous features gives way to a preference for whiteness, which we interpret as evidence of first generation migrants adopting the dominant racial ideology of the United States. While ethnic distinctions have long been viewed as a key component of voting behavior, our research demonstrates that, even within a single ethnicity, racial differences may have profound impacts on the evaluation of and support for electoral candidates. This study contributes to the research on race and political behavior in comparative perspective, as well as the political consequences of migration.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Aguilar R, Hughes DA, Gell-Redman M

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Political Behavior

Year: 2019

Volume: 41

Issue: 1

Pages: 187-207

Print publication date: 01/03/2019

Online publication date: 06/02/2018

Acceptance date: 17/01/2018

Date deposited: 19/08/2019

ISSN (print): 0190-9320

ISSN (electronic): 1573-6687

Publisher: Springer


DOI: 10.1007/s11109-018-9445-9


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