Threat, identity, and dissent: Understanding and addressing political polarization in European democracies (UNDPOLAR)

In many countries public opinion is polarized on issues such as immigration, inequality, populism, and trust in institutions. Although for each issue there is an extended scientific literature, there is a pressing need for integration. Are opinions on these issues related and, if so, what is the glue that binds them? Do different groups of people polarize on different issues and/or for different reasons?

Our first objective is to determine how identities and threat combine to generate multiple polarized attitudes. We will identify subpopulations with unique belief systems, consisting of threats, identities, and polarized attitudes. This is followed by experiments that test a few specific causal effects of identities and threats, and how these may differ between subpopulations with different belief systems.

Our second objective is to compare subpopulations of belief systems across countries and over time. Therefore, cross-country differences in belief systems will be related to variation in the political landscape (e.g., political polarisation), and differences in social structural country characteristics (e.g., inequality and meritocratic beliefs).

Third, democratic innovations such as citizen fora have been developed to overcome polarisation. We will test whether using our insights on threats and identity can make such fora more effective.

Research team

Project Leader:
Dr T. Kuppens
University of Groningen (the Netherlands)

Principal Investigators:
Dr M.J. Easterbrook
University of Sussex (UK)

Dr R. Rodriguez-Bailon
Universidad de Granada (Spain)

Professor C. Darnon
University of Clermont-Ferrand (France)

Dr M. Marchlewska
Polish Academy of Sciences (Poland)

Prof. dr. P. Achterberg
Tilburg University (the Netherlands)

Dr D. Caluwaerts
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Belgium)