As the setting of the experiment, Enos selected a series of commuter rail stations in the Boston metro area. For anybody familiar with area, it won’t be a surprise that the study sample consisted mostly of Anglo-white individuals—83 percent of the whole, to be exact. While demographic change is happening to much of the U.S., Boston has received fewer immigrants than, say, Arizona. Despite this, Massachusetts is consistently rated as one of the most democratic and liberal states in the union, ostensibly meaning that immigrants would be more welcome in the state than elsewhere.
This assumption was put to the test when Enos hired pairs of native Spanish speakers and instructed them to simply ride the train at the selected stations. In a previous survey, the Spanish speakers had been rated as appearing to be Hispanic immigrants. They were not told about the purpose of the study, nor were they given instructions to speak Spanish to one another or interact with people on the train, just to ride it and act however they pleased.
After being exposed to the Spanish speakers, Anglo-white respondents were far more likely to support making English the official language.
Enos distributed surveys to a random set of commuters on the train at three different points: before introducing the Spanish speakers into the commuter environment, three days after, and 10 ays after. This survey asked questions about the respondents’ demographics, political opinions, and the following three key questions:
- Do you think the number of immigrants from Mexico who are permitted to come to the United States to live should be increased, left the same, or decreased?
- Would you favor allowing persons that have immigrated to the United States illegally to remain in the country if they are employed and have no criminal history?
- Some people favor a state law declaring English as the official language. Some other people oppose such a law. Would you favor such a law?
After being exposed to the Spanish speakers, respondents were far more likely to support stricter positions on immigration and to support making English the official language. “People’s attitudes moved sharply in this exclusionary direction,” Enos said in an interview with the Boston Globe. “I was surprised that the effects were strong.” The Spanish speakers were debriefed after the experiment and reported similar impressions. “Because we are chatting in Spanish, they look at us,” wrote one of the participants in a report to Enos. “I don’t think it is common to hear people speaking Spanish on this route.
Even in one of the most liberal places in the U.S., exposure to a new group of people made the commuters more exclusionary and conservative in their positions on immigration. In the survey, liberals demonstrated the greatest change in opinion, whereas conservatives, who already supported more exclusionary policies to begin with, didn’t change their stances as dramatically