“Economic Inequality, “Status” Threats and Support for Exclusionary Rhetoric”

The recent surge in success of ‘populist’ candidates throughout Western democracies is predicated on their commitment to ethno-nationalist rhetoric. This project advances a parsimonious and integrated theory that explains the psychological mechanisms driving support for such exclusionary rhetoric. Specifically, drawing on scholarship from across various fields of social science, the theory hypothesizes that economic inequality and resulting feelings of relative deprivation increase attachments to social identities, such as race, gender, and religious identity. This heightened group attachment then makes individuals from these historically dominant groups more susceptible to threats to the status of these groups in society. In addition to this causal effect of relative deprivation on identity attachment and threat, it is also argued that external threats to these historically dominant identities, such as the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements, threaten the historically dominant status of certain groups in society. And, these status threats lead to a ramping up of a particular conceptualization of “national” identity, one that maintains the privileged status of historically dominant groups (i.e. white, male, Christians). The ramping up of this “exclusionary national” identity thus explains the successful use of ethno-nationalist rhetoric among ‘populist’ candidates throughout Western democracies. This study will then test resulting hypotheses in a series of experiments, the design of which are described in this pre-analysis plan registered with EGAP.

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