Attitudes toward Identity Politics: Principles, Policies, and Episodes

27.02.2024 - 12:00 to 13:30
Location : 
A 5,6 Raum A 231
Type of Event : 
AB B-Kolloquium
Peter Thisted Dinesen
Lecturer affiliation: 
University of Copenhagen

One of the most debated political developments in recent years is the emergence of the phenomenon commonly referred to as “identity politics”---that is, political activity founded in shared feelings and experiences of injustice among members of historically disadvantaged groups, with the aim to rectify these injustices (Stanford Encyclopedia 2020). While the concept of identity politics and its potential consequences for society have been hotly debated, there has been little measurement and analysis of attitudes toward identity politics among voters. In short, we don’t know if there is support for—or rejection of—principles or policies associated with identity politics in the general population. Without this knowledge, we are unlikely to appreciate the potential role played by identity politics in the coming years.

In this paper, we fill this lacuna by developing survey instruments to measure different dimensions of attitudes towards identity politics. More concretely, to achieve a more nuanced understanding of opinions towards identity politics, we argue that it should be broken down into three separate elements: principles, policies, and episodes. Principles are the abstract ideas on which identity politics is founded (e.g., agreement that historically dominant groups still have advantages at the expense of others). Policies refer to the concrete political initiatives that identity politics may give rise to (e.g., support for gender neutral toilets in public buildings). Episodes are cases associated with identity politics that have been discussed in the media and that people are therefore likely to be familiar with.

We fielded the survey instruments in a multi-wave panel survey in Denmark—a country largely representative of the broader trend toward increasing politicization of identity politics—in which we tested several pre-registered hypotheses. In line with our expectations, we find that support varies by the level of abstraction of the expressions of identity politics. Whereas people lean in a supportive direction for the principles underlying identity politics, they lean in a more skeptical direction on the concrete issues, and are overwhelmingly skeptical about the episodes associated with identity politics. The results thus reveal an interesting schism between citizens’ attitudes toward the abstract principles and concrete manifestations of identity politics. In addition, we show that support along these three dimensions vary, in mostly expected ways, with gender, education, and political predispositions. These results are an important first step in understanding the general public’s attitudes towards identity politics as well as its downstream consequences for society.