Document Type


Date of Degree

Summer 2017

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Political Science

First Advisor

Rocha, Rene R.

First Committee Member

Pacheco, Julianna

Second Committee Member

Boehmke, Frederick J.

Third Committee Member

Tolbert, Caroline

Fourth Committee Member

Bruch, Sarah


Policy feedback theory argues that public policies shape mass political behavior by teaching citizens about their relationship to government. However, most studies assume that the entire public has a uniform reaction to policy. I reevaluate this assumption by examining how feedback from policy varies by groups and across contexts. I argue that, because policy sends different signals to those targeted by policy than those outside policy’s target group, these groups should have opposite reactions to the way policy is implemented in their community. And, for those targeted by policy, feedback effects should depend on how likely individuals’ are to have direct contact with policy. I also argue that since policy is not created or implemented in isolation, scholars must also how residential context affects where we are likely to see feedback effects and where the effects of policy will be muted.

The first half of the dissertation tests my arguments by exploring how criminal justice policy affects the political behavior of blacks and whites. Using data from two national surveys and information on racial inequalities in local law enforcement, I find that racially skewed criminal justice outcomes is linked with stronger feelings of racial identity for highly educated blacks and stronger feelings of national identity for blacks with low levels of education. I also find that racially unequal criminal justice enforcement is associated with negative political orientations and lower rates of participation for highly educated blacks. Whites, however, respond positively to similar criminal justice outcomes when they reside in areas with large black populations. The effect of criminal justice policy on political behavior for both blacks and whites is stronger in contexts where policy is more salient—areas with large black populations.

In the second half of the dissertation, I analyze how immigration enforcement affects the identities and attitudes of Latinos and Anglos. Here, I use data from two national public opinion surveys and information on county-level immigration enforcement to test my arguments. I find that native-born Latinos are more likely to feel tied to their ethnic group in areas with a large foreign-born population where many immigrants are deported. Foreign-born Latinos’ ethnic identity is unaffected by policy. I also find that high levels of immigration enforcement are associated with less restrictive immigration attitudes for foreign- and native-born Latinos, especially in areas with large foreign-born populations I also find some evidence that Anglos hold more restrictive attitudes toward immigration in response to high levels of immigration enforcement.


criminal justice, immigration, public policy, race/ethnicity


vii, 159 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 150-159).


Copyright © 2017 Elizabeth Maltby