Voting by Cultural Identity

Voting by cultural identity is easier than engaging with the complexities of multilayer political governance, but it can be divisive.

An article on Identity, Beliefs, and Political Conflict revealed the significance of voting along cultural lines:

“We obtain three implications. First, voters’ beliefs are polarized along the distinctive features of salient groups. Second, if the salience of cultural policies increases, cultural conflict rises, redistributive conflict falls, and polarization becomes more correlated across issues. Third, economic shocks hurting conservative voters may trigger a switch to cultural identity, causing these voters to demand less redistribution.”

It is easier to vote on the basis of identity than it is to understand the implications of different political policy options, but there are associated risks:

●  The risks of aggressive nationalism were described earlier (  It formed a major ingredient in both the World Wars.  The EU was formed to offset these risks, but it has provided a stage upon which national politicians can strut: parading their nationalism to please their domestic audiences, rather than cooperating to solve governance problems (  The conflicts of interest between European countries are now clearly visible, notably on the vexed question of accommodating immigrants.

●  Cultural identity has been a potent factor in national elections, combined with resentment against political elites, resulting in ‘authoritarian populist’ politicians making gains in Europe and America – as described earlier (

With both these forms of identity politics, elections have increased the visibility of differences but have not offered a mechanism for reducing conflict or choosing political policies.



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6672.htm.