Hostname: page-component-6b989bf9dc-llglr Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-04-13T19:04:34.632Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

National identity between democracy and autocracy: a comparative analysis of 24 countries

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 November 2020

Julian Erhardt*
Institute of Political Science, University of Bern, Switzerland
Steffen Wamsler
Institute of Political Science, University of Bern, Switzerland
Markus Freitag
Institute of Political Science, University of Bern, Switzerland


Recognizing democratic backsliding and increasing support for authoritarianism, research on public preferences for democracy and its authoritarian alternatives has gained traction. Moving beyond the extant focus on economic determinants, our analysis examines the effect of national identity, demonstrating that it is a double-edged sword for regime preferences. Using recent European Values Survey data on 24 European countries from 2017 to 2018, we show that civic national identity is associated with a higher support for democracy and lower support for authoritarian regimes, whereas the reverse holds for ethnic identities. Further, economic hardship moderates these relationships: it strengthens both the negative effect of ethnic national identities and, to some extent, the positive effect of civic national identities on democracy support vis-à-vis authoritarian alternatives. This has important implications for the survival of democracy in times of crises and the study of a cultural backlash, since social identity matters substantively for individuals’ responses to economic hardship.

Research Article
© The Author(s), 2020. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of European Consortium for Political Research

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Ackermann, M., Ackermann, K. and Freitag, M. (2019), ‘The personality of stealth democrats: how traits shape attitudes towards expert-based governments’, West European Politics 42(3): 573592.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Adorno, T., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D. and Sanford, R. (1950), The Authoritarian Personality, New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
Altemeyer, B. (1996), The Authoritarian Specter, Cambridge, MA: Cambridge Univ. Pr.Google Scholar
Andersen, R. (2012), ‘Support for democracy in cross-national perspective: the detrimental effect of economic inequality’, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 30(4): 389402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ariely, G. and Davidov, E. (2011), ‘Can we rate public support for democracy in a comparable way?: Cross-national equivalence of democratic attitudes in the World Value Survey’, Social Indicators Research 104(2): 271286.Google Scholar
Armingeon, K. and Guthmann, K. (2014), ‘Democracy in crisis?: The declining support for national democracy in European countries, 2007–2011’, European Journal of Political Research 53(3): 423442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Armingeon, K., Guthmann, K. and Weisstanner, D. (2016), ‘How the Euro divides the union: The effect of economic adjustment on support for democracy in Europe’, Socio-Economic Review 14(1): 126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ausserladscheider, V. (2019), ‘Beyond economic insecurity and cultural backlash: economic nationalism and the rise of the far right’, Sociology Compass 13(4): e12670.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Berg, L. and Hjerm, M. (2010), ‘national identity and political trust’, Perspectives on European Politics and Society 11(4): 390407.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bermeo, N. (2016), ‘On democratic backsliding’, Journal of Democracy 27(1): 519.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Blank, T. and Schmidt, P. (2003), ‘National identity in a United Germany: nationalism or patriotism? An empirical test with representative data’, Political Psychology 24(2): 289312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bonikowski, B. (2016), ‘Nationalism in settled times’, Annual Review of Sociology 42(1): 427449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bratton, M. and Mattes, R. (2001), ‘Support for democracy in Africa: intrinsic or instrumental?’, British Journal of Political Science 31(3): 447474.Google Scholar
Bratton, M., Mattes, R. and Gyimah-Boadi, E. (2005), Public Opinion, Democracy, and Market Reform in Africa, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr.Google Scholar
Brubaker, R. (1992), Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany, New York: Cambridge Univ. Pr.Google Scholar
Brubaker, R. (1999), The Manichean myth: rethinking the distinction BETWEEN “Civic” and “Ethnic” nationalism, in Kriesi, H., Armingeon, K., Siegrist, H. and Wimmer, A. (eds.), Nation and National Identity: The European Experience in Perspective, Chur, Zürich: Rüegger, pp. 5572.Google Scholar
Brubaker, R. (2004), Ethnicity without Groups, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Pr.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Calhoun, C. (2007), Nations Matter: Culture, History, and the Cosmopolitan Dream, London, New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Canan, C. and Simon, M.K. (2018), ‘Immigration, diversity and the relevance of ascriptive characteristics in defining national identity across 21 countries and 28 West-German districts’, Migration Studies 94(3–4): 119.Google Scholar
Chu, Y.h., Bratton, M., Lagos Cruz-Coke, M., Shastri, S. and Tessler, M.A. (2008), ‘Public opinion and democratic legitimacy’, Journal of Democracy 19(2): 7487.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Citrin, J., Wong, C. and Duff, B. (2001), The meaning of American national identity, in Ashmore, R. D., Jussim, L. and Wilder, D. (eds.), Social Identity, Intergroup Conflict, and Conflict Resolution, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 71100.Google Scholar
Cordero, G. and Simón, P. (2016), ‘Economic crisis and support for democracy in Europe’, West European Politics 39(2): 305325.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Cottam, M., UhlerDietz, B., Mastors, E. and Preston, T. (2010), Introduction to Political Psychology, 2nd ed, New York: Psychology Pr.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dahl, R.A. (1998), On Democracy, New Haven: Yale Univ. Pr.Google Scholar
Dalton, R.J. (2004), Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices: The Erosion of Political Support in Advanced Industrial Democracies, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Pr.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dancygier, R. and Donnelly, M. (2014), Attitudes toward Immigration in Good Times and Bad, in Bermeo, N.G. and Bartels, L.M. (eds), Mass Politics in Tough Times: Opinions, Votes and Protest in the Great Recession, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Pr, pp. 148184.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Davidov, E. (2009), ‘Measurement equivalence of nationalism and constructive patriotism in the ISSP: 34 countries in a comparative perspective’, Political Analysis 17(1): 6482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
De Cleen, B. (2017), Populism and nationalism, in Rovira Kaltwasser, C., Taggart, P.A., Ochoa Espejo, P. and Ostiguy, P. (eds), Oxford handbooks. The Oxford Handbook of Populism, Oxford, New York: Oxford Univ. Pr, pp. 342362.Google Scholar
De Figueiredo, R. and Elkins, Z. (2003), ‘Are patriots bigots? An inquiry into the vices of in-group pride’, American Journal of Political Science 47(1): 171188.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
De Regt, S., Smits, T. and Mortelmans, D. (2012), ‘The relevance of class in shaping authoritarian attitudes: a cross-national perspective’, Research in Social Stratification and Mobility 30(3): 280295.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Duckitt, J. and Bizumic, B. (2013), ‘Multidimensionality of right-wing authoritarian attitudes: authoritarianism-conservatism-traditionalism’, Political Psychology 34(6): 841862.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Duckitt, J. and Fisher, K. (2003), ‘The impact of social threat on worldview and ideological attitudes’, Political Psychology 24(1): 199222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Easton, D. (1965), A Systems Analysis of Political Life, New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
Easton, D. (1975), ‘A re-assessment of the concept of political support’, British Journal of Political Science 5(4): 435457.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
EVS (2008), ‘European values study 2008, integrated dataset (EVS 2008), ZA4800, data file version 4.0.0. [online]’. Retrieved 27 April 2020 from Google Scholar
EVS (2019), ‘European values study 2017, integrated dataset (EVS 2017), ZA7500, data file version 2.0.0. [online]’. Retrieved 27 April 2020 from Google Scholar
Foster, C. and Frieden, J. (2017), ‘Crisis of trust: Socio-economic determinants of Europeans’ confidence in government’, European Union Politics 18(4): 511535.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Freedom House (2019), ‘Freedom in the world, country and territory ratings and statuses, 1973–2019. [online]’. Retrieved 27 April 2020 from Google Scholar
Gidron, N. and Hall, P.A. (2017), ‘The politics of social status: Economic and cultural roots of the populist right’, The British Journal of Sociology 68(S1): S57S84.Google ScholarPubMed
Gidron, N. and Hall, P.A. (2019), ‘Populism as a Problem of Social Integration’, Comparative Political Studies 68(1): 133.Google Scholar
Habermas, J. (1991), Staatsbürgerschaft und nationale Identität, St. Gallen: Erker.Google Scholar
Habermas, J. (1994), Struggles for recognition in the Democratic constitutional state. In: Gutman, A. (ed.), Multiculturalism, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr, pp. 106184.Google Scholar
Hadler, M. and Flesken, A. (2018), ‘Political rhetoric and attitudes toward nationhood: a time-comparative and cross-national analysis of 39 countries’, International Journal of Comparative Sociology 59(5–6): 362382.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Helbling, M. (2009), ‘Nationalism and democracy: competing or complementary logics’, Living Reviews in Democracy 1(1): 114.Google Scholar
Helbling, M., Reeskens, T. and Wright, M. (2016), ‘The mobilisation of identities: a study on the relationship between elite rhetoric and public opinion on national identity in developed democracies’, Nations and Nationalism 22(4): 744767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hellmeier, S. and Weidmann, N.B. (2020), ‘Pulling the strings? The strategic use of pro-government mobilization in authoritarian regimes’, Comparative Political Studies 53(1): 71108.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hjerm, M. (2001), ‘Education, xenophobia and nationalism: a comparative analysis’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 27(1): 3760.Google Scholar
Hobolt, S. B. and De Vries, C.E. (2016), ‘Public Support for European Integration’, Annual Review of Political Science 19(1): 413432.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Huang, M.-h., Chang, Y.-t. and Chu, Y.-h. (2008), ‘Identifying sources of democratic legitimacy: a multilevel analysis’, Electoral Studies 27(1): 4562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ignatieff, M. (1993), Blood and Belonging: Journeys into the New Nationalism, Toronto: Viking.Google Scholar
Inglehart, R. and Norris, P. (2017), ‘Trump and the populist authoritarian parties: the silent revolution in reverse’, Perspectives on Politics 15(2): 443454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Inglehart, R. and Welzel, C. (2005), Modernization, Cultural Change, and Democracy: The Human Development Sequence, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr.Google Scholar
Kohn, H. (1939), ‘The nature of nationalism’, American Political Science Review 33(6): 10011021.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kosterman, R. and Feshbach, S. (1989), ‘Toward a measure of patriotic and nationalistic attitudes’, Political Psychology 10(2): 257274.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kotzian, P. (2011), ‘Public support for liberal democracy’, International Political Science Review 32(1): 2341.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kroknes, V.F., Jakobsen, T.G. and Grønning, L.-M. (2015), ‘Economic performance and political trust: the impact of the financial crisis on European citizens’, European Societies 17(5): 700723.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kunovich, R. (2009), ‘The sources and consequences of national identification’, American Sociological Review 74(4): 573593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kurer, T., Häusermann, S., Wüest, B. and Enggist, M. (2019), ‘Economic grievances and political protest’, European Journal of Political Research 58(3): 866892.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kuzio, T. (2002), ‘The myth of the civic state: a critical survey of Hans Kohn’s framework for understanding nationalism’, Ethnic and Racial Studies 25(1): 2039.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Kymlicka, W. (2000), ‘Nation-building and minority rights: Comparing West and East’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 26(2): 183212.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Larsen, C.A. (2017), ‘Revitalizing the ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ distinction. Perceptions of nationhood across two dimensions, 44 countries and two decades’, Nations and Nationalism 23(4): 970993.Google Scholar
Latcheva, R. (2011), ‘Cognitive interviewing and factor-analytic techniques: a mixed method approach to validity of survey items measuring national identity’, Quality & Quantity 45(6): 11751199.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lenard, P.T. and Miller, D. (2018), Trust and national identity, in Uslaner, E.M. (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Social and Political Trust, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Pr, pp. 5774.Google Scholar
Linz, J.J. (2000), Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes, Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publ.Google Scholar
Linz, J.J. and Stepan, A. (1996), Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southern Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Pr.Google Scholar
Lipset, S.M. (1959a), ‘Democracy and working-class authoritarianism’, American Sociological Review 24(4): 482501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lipset, S.M. (1959b), ‘Some social requisites of democracy: economic development and political legitimacy’, American Political Science Review 53(1): 69105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Luong, F. (2016), The crisis of western democracies and national identity: citizenship, immigration, and constitutional patriotism, in Verdugo, R. and Milne, A. (eds.) National Identity: Theory and Research, Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publ, pp. 5579.Google Scholar
Magalhães, P.C. (2014), ‘Government effectiveness and support for democracy’, European Journal of Political Research 53(1): 7797.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mair, P. (2013), Smaghi versus the parties: representative government and institutional constraints. In: Schäfer, A. and Streeck, W. (eds.), Politics in the Age of Austerity, Cambridge: Polity Pr, pp. 143168.Google Scholar
Manow, P. (2018), Die Politische Ökonomie des Populismus, Berlin: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
Markell, P. (2000), ‘Making affect safe for democracy?: on “Constitutional Patriotism”’, Political Theory 28(1): 3863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Marshall, M.G., Gurr, T.R. and Jaggers, K. (2019), ‘Polity IV project, political regime characteristics and transitions, annual time-series, 1800–2018. [online]’. Retrieved 27 April 2020 from Google Scholar
Mattes, R. and Bratton, M. (2007), ‘Learning about democracy in Africa: awareness, performance, and experience’, American Journal of Political Science 51(1): 192217.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McDonnell, D. and Valbruzzi, M. (2014), ‘Defining and classifying technocrat-led and technocratic governments’, European Journal of Political Research 53(4): 654671.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McLaren, L. (2017), ‘Immigration, national identity and political trust in European democracies’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 43(3): 379399.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Merkel, W. (2004), ‘Embedded and defective democracies’, Democratization 11(5): 3358.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miller, D. (1995), On Nationality, Oxford: Clarendon Pr.Google Scholar
Mishler, W. and Rose, R. (1996), ‘Tragectories of fear and hope: support for democracy in post-communist Europe’, Comparative Political Studies 28(4): 553581.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mudde, C. and Kaltwasser Rovira, C. (2018), ‘Studying populism in comparative perspective: reflections on the contemporary and future research agenda’, Comparative Political Studies 51(13): 16671693.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Müller, J.-W. (2010), Verfassungspatriotismus, Berlin: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
Norris, P. (ed.) (1999), Critical Citizens: Global Support for Democratic Government, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Pr.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Norris, P. (2011), Democratic Deficit: Critical Citizens Revisited, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Norris, P. and Inglehart, R. (2019), Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism, Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Pr.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Offe, C. (2013), Participatory inequality in the austerity state: a supply-side approach, in Schäfer, A. and Streeck, W. (eds.), Politics in the Age of Austerity,Cambridge: Polity Pr, pp. 196218.Google Scholar
Osborne, D., Milojev, P. and Sibley, C.G. (2017), ‘Authoritarianism and national identity: examining the longitudinal effects of SDO and RWA on nationalism and patriotism’, Personality & Social Psychology Bulletin 43(8): 10861099.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pastorella, G. (2016), ‘Technocratic governments in Europe: getting the critique right’, Political Studies 64(4): 948965.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pehrson, S., Brown, R. and Zagefka, H. (2009), ‘When does national identification lead to the rejection of immigrants?: cross-sectional and longitudinal evidence for the role of essentialist in-group definitions’, The British Journal of Social Psychology 48(1): 6176.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Pratto, F., Sidanius, J., Stallworth, L.M. and Malle, B.F. (1994), ‘Social dominance orientation: a personality variable predicting social and political attitudes’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 67(4): 741763.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rapp, C. (2018), ‘National attachments and the immigrant participation gap’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 7(2): 123.Google Scholar
Reeskens, T. and Hooghe, M. (2010), ‘Beyond the civic-ethnic dichotomy: investigating the structure of citizenship concepts across thirty-three countries’, Nations and Nationalism 16(4): 579597.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rickert, E.J. (1998), ‘Authoritarianism and economic threat: implications for political behavior’, Political Psychology 19(4): 707720.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Riedl, M. and Geishecker, I. (2014), ‘Keep it simple: estimation strategies for ordered response models with fixed effects’, Journal of Applied Statistics 41(11): 23582374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rose, R., Mishler, W. and Haerpfer, C. (1998), Democracy and Its Alternatives: Understanding Post-Communist Societies, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Pr.Google Scholar
Schatz, R., Staub, E. and Lavine, H. (1999), ‘On the varieties of national attachment: blind versus constructive patriotism’, Political Psychology 20(1): 151174.Google Scholar
Schmidt, P. and Quandt, M. (2018), ‘National identity, nationalism, and attitudes toward migrants in comparative perspective’, International Journal of Comparative Sociology 59(5–6): 355361.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Scruggs, L., Jahn, D. and Kuitto, K. (2017), ‘Comparative welfare entitlements dataset 2. Version 2017–09. [online]’. Retrieved 27 April 2020 from Google Scholar
Serricchio, F., Tsakatika, M. and Quaglia, L. (2013), ‘Euroscepticism and the global financial crisis’, JCMS: Journal of Common Market Studies 51(1): 5164.Google Scholar
Shayo, M. (2009), ‘A model of social identity with an application to political economy: nation, class, and redistribution’, American Political Science Review 103(2): 147174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Shulman, S. (2002), ‘Challenging the civic/ethnic and west/east dichotomies in the study of nationalism’, Comparative Political Studies 35(5): 554585.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simonsen, K.B. (2016), ‘How the host nation’s boundary drawing affects immigrants’ belonging’, Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42(7): 11531176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Simonsen, K.B. and Bonikowski, B. (2019), ‘Is civic nationalism necessarily inclusive? Conceptions of nationhood and anti-Muslim attitudes in Europe’, European Journal of Political Research 10(1): 123.Google Scholar
Smith, A.D. (1991), National Identity, Reno, NV: Univ. of Nevada Pr.Google Scholar
Smith, A.D. (1998), Nationalism and Modernism: A Critical Survey of Recent Theories of Nations and Nationalism, London, New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Soest, C. von and Grauvogel, J. (2017), ‘Identity, procedures and performance: how authoritarian regimes legitimize their rule’, Contemporary Politics 23(3): 287305.Google Scholar
Stegmueller, D. (2013), ‘How many countries for multilevel modeling? A comparison of frequentist and Bayesian approaches’, American Journal of Political Science 57(3): 748761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tamir, Y. (2019a), ‘Not so civic: is there a difference between ethnic and civic nationalism?’, Annual Review of Political Science 22(1): 419434.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tamir, Y. (2019b), Why Nationalism, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Pr. Google Scholar
Teixeira, C.P., Tsatsanis, E. and Belchior, A.M. (2014), ‘Support for democracy in times of crisis: diffuse and specific regime support in Portugal and Greece’, South European Society and Politics 19(4): 501518.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vargas-Salfate, S., Liu, J.H. and Gil de Zúñiga, H. (2020), ‘Right-wing authoritarianism and national identification: the role of democratic context’, International Journal of Public Opinion Research 32(2): 318331.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vincent, A. (2013), Nationalism, in Freeden, M. and Stears, M. (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies, Oxford: Oxford Univ. Pr, pp. 452473.Google Scholar
Wagner, U., Becker, J.C., Christ, O., Pettigrew, T.F. and Schmidt, P. (2012), ‘A longitudinal test of the relation between German nationalism, patriotism, and outgroup derogation’, European Sociological Review 28(3): 319332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Waldner, D. and Lust, E. (2018), ‘Unwelcome change: coming to terms with democratic backsliding’, Annual Review of Political Science 21(1): 93113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wright, M., Citrin, J. and Wand, J. (2012), ‘Alternative measures of American national identity: implications for the civic-ethnic distinction’, Political Psychology 33(4): 469482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Erhardt et al. Supplementary Materials

Erhardt et al. Supplementary Materials

Download Erhardt et al. Supplementary Materials(File)
File 2.5 MB