Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences


Political Science

First Advisor

Dr. Mark Peffley


The purpose of my dissertation is to further our understanding of why some states restricted immigrant access to welfare in the 1990s while other states granted immigrants access to social programs. With the passage of the Personal Responsibility Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), many states diverged from equal access to welfare programs, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), for immigrants arriving after 1996. Very little scholarly work examines the variance in immigrants’ access to welfare programs. Current research studying welfare attitudes and policy has largely failed to investigate whether and how the influx of immigrants over the last three to four decades has decreased public support for welfare programs and resulted in policies that both decrease benefit levels and restrict access to programs based on citizenship. This is a serious shortcoming because immigration since the 1970s represents the largest population shift since the early 20th century, a change that has increased the size of the underclass and transformed the cultural and racial makeup of theUnited States. Accordingly, in my dissertation, I will examine how changes to the American political environment, immigration levels and the increasing number of immigration media stories, trigger authoritarian attitudes that in turn form a breeding ground supporting restrictive welfare programs. The results from the individual-level analysis provide strong evidence that authoritarians prefer less welfare spending, fewer immigrants, and a waiting period before immigrants can access welfare programs. In addition, authoritarians view immigrants as a threat due to their perceived failure to socially conform to American society. Building on these individual-level results, I find that states with large authoritarian populations are more likely to adopt restrictive welfare policies.