Citizens’ Multidimensional National Identities and Foreign Policy Attitudes in Different Contexts

Research question/goal: 

The project investigated the multi-dimensional nature of national identities and their implications for political attitudes and political behaviour. Because globalization processes have made borders increasingly porous, a special focus lay on foreign policy broadly conceived, including traditional foreign policy issues as well as issues related to foreigners and foreignness. The main theoretical idea was that different national identity dimensions might not only have distinct effects, as prior research indicated, but that the configuration of national identity components as well as the context in which individuals are positioned matter for national identity effects on attitude formation and behaviour.

With this in mind, the project compiled relevant existing survey data and collected original data by including tailored measurement instruments in on-going survey projects. For example, measures of self-categorization, commitment, and identity content were included in a large-scale comparative survey on foreign policy issues that polled citizens in the USA (N=2,330), the UK (N=2,339), and Germany (N=2,476).

The project findings were published in several peer-reviewed articles in international and national outlets. Our results confirm that national identities at the public level are multidimensional phenomena. Furthermore, many citizens combine idea elements in ways that diverge from ideal typical configurations prior research tried to capture with dichotomies such as ethnic/civic and nationalism/patriotism. Our data analysis suggests that more than one in three citizens in Germany subscribes to both ethnocultural and civic criteria of nationhood. What is more, members of this ‘mixed-type’ category exhibit distinct effects of ambivalence when evaluating policy issues such as asylum and immigration policies in certain contexts. Additional project findings include that national identity dimensions are associated with political behaviour—turnout and vote choice—in predictable, context-dependent ways. Reflecting differences in the AfD’s radicalness in East and West Germany, the association at the individual level between ethnoculturalism and vote choice for this party is stronger in the East than the West of Germany.

Fact sheet

2017 to 2021
Data Sources: 
survey data
Geographic Space: