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The attitudinal mosaic : forming attitudes about multiculturalism, immigration, and ethnic diversity in Canada Penner, Erin Margaret


Western liberal democracies are grappling with the issue of ethnic diversity. Canada, with its shifting immigration patterns from ‘traditional’ to ‘non-traditional’ sender countries, is no exception. Since 1971, Canada’s federal government has pursued a policy of multiculturalism in its approach to interethnic relations. The normative assumption behind the approach is that ethnic diversity is good and that affirming ethnic minority cultures is the best way to achieve a strong, cohesive society for all Canadians. This dissertation investigates the behavioural aspect of the multicultural assumption. That is, how do people actually behave in a multicultural society? What factors determine the shape of the attitudinal terrain? How do citizens really perceive their neighbors and what are the consequences? This dissertation is interested not just in what people say about ethnic diversity, but why people say it. In a series of four articles, it looks at a range of issues, including the attitudinal determinants of comfort with intergroup contact, the marginal effects of individual and contextual factors of attitudes toward immigrant integration for whites and non-whites, and the interaction between political values and personality in overcoming negative reactions to ethnic stereotypes. I draw on political science theories of behaviour, as well as social psychological and personality psychological theories of attitude and identity formation. I employ recent public opinion data from various sources to test hypotheses with descriptive statistics and regression analysis. Given the dissertation’s article structure, there are numerous conclusions to be drawn. For instance, I highlight the relative importance of prejudice, rooted in an individual’s social identity, in shaping attitudes about ethnic outgroups. I also show the analytic dangers of conflating value differences with physical differences when assessing the perceptions of minority groups. Along the same lines, I show the importance of investigating minority opinion separately from majority opinion: key attitudinal determinants impact these groups quite differently. I illustrate the power of political values in overriding potent negative stereotypes. Finally, I uncover evidence that supports the assumptions behind Canada’s multiculturalism policy, namely, that ethnic minorities confident in their own culture will be more willing to contribute to a strong Canadian society.

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