Skip to main content Accessibility help

Conceptions of National Identity and Ambivalence towards Immigration

  • Emmy Lindstam (a1), Matthias Mader (a1) and Harald Schoen (a1)


National identities are often conceived of as factors that lend structure and stability to citizens’ political opinions on issues such as immigration. While citizens who define national membership in ethno-cultural terms are less likely to support immigration, those with a civic conception are more likely to do so. The authors propose that defining national identity along both ethno-cultural and civic lines may give rise to conflicting considerations, leading people to experience ambivalence, implying that national identities may serve less as a stabilizing force than suggested by previous research. Findings from heterogeneous choice models and a unique survey experiment show that German citizens with mixed conceptions of national identity had more variable and more malleable opinions than individuals with ideal-type conceptions during the 2015/2016 European refugee crisis. The findings point to an identity-based source of ambivalence and extend current understandings of how people form attitudes towards immigration.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author: Email:


Hide All
Albertson, B, Brehm, J Alvarez, RM (2005) Ambivalence as internal conflict. In Craig SC and Martinez MD (eds), Ambivalence and the Structure of Political Opinion. New York: Palgrave Macmillan US, pp. 1532.
Alvarez, RM Brehm, J (1995) American ambivalence towards abortion policy: development of a heteroscedastic probit model of competing values. American Journal of Political Science 39 (4):10551082.
Alvarez, RM Brehm, J (2002 ) Hard Choices, Easy Answers: Values, Information, and American Public Opinion . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Ariely, G (2011) Constitutional patriotism, liberal nationalism and membership in the nation: an empirical assessment. Acta Politica 46 (3):294319.
Asparouhov, T Muthén, B (2009) Exploratory structural equation modeling. Structural Equation Modeling: A Multidisciplinary Journal 16 (3):397438.
Basinger, SJ Lavine, H (2005) Ambivalence, information, and electoral choice. American Political Science Review 99 (2):169184.
Becker, E (2017) Good mosque, bad mosque: boundaries to belonging in contemporary Germany. Journal of the American Academy of Religion 85 (4):10501088.
BMI (2016) 890.000 Asylsuchende im Jahr 2015. Pressemitteilung des Bundesministerium des Innern (BMI), 30.09.2016. [890,000 asylum seekers in 2015. Press release of the Federal Ministry of the Interior.]
Bonikowski, B DiMaggio, P (2016) Varieties of American popular nationalism. American Sociological Review 81 (5):949980.
Branscombe, NR et al. (1999) The context and content of social identity threat. In Ellemers N (ed.), Social Identity: Context, Commitment, Content. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 3558.
Brubaker, R (1992) Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Carey, S (2002) Undivided loyalties: is national identity an obstacle to European integration? European Union Politics 3 (4):387413.
Carroll, N (2016) oglmx: a package for estimation of ordered generalized linear models. Available at (accessed 27 November 2018).
Chouliaraki, L et al. (2017) The European ‘migration crisis’ and the media: a cross-European press content analysis. London: London School of Economics and Political Science.
Citrin, J, Reingold, B Green, DP (1990) American identity and the politics of ethnic change. The Journal of Politics 52 (4):11241154.
Citrin, J Sears, DO (2014) American Identity and the Politics of Multiculturalism. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Citrin, J Sides, J (2008) Immigration and the imagined community in Europe and the United States. Political Studies 56 (1):3356.
Citrin, J Wright, M (2008) The collision of national identity and multiculturalism among mass publics. Paper prepared for the 2008 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, 4–7 April, Chicago, IL.
Clarke, HD, Goodwin, M Whiteley, P (2017) Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Craig, SC, Martinez, MD Kane, JG (2005) Core values, value conflict, and citizens’ ambivalence about gay rights. Political Research Quarterly 58 (1):517.
Esses, VM et al. (2006) Perceptions of national identity and attitudes toward immigrants and immigration in Canada and Germany. International Journal of Intercultural Relations 30 (6):653669.
Franklin, CH (1991) Eschewing obfuscation? Campaigns and the perception of US Senate incumbents. American Political Science Review 85 (4):11931214.
Green, S (2013) Germany: a changing country of immigration. German Politics 22 (3):333351.
Habermas, J (1990) Die Nachholende Revolution [The Catch-up Revolution]. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.
Hainmueller, J Hopkins, DJ (2015) The hidden American immigration consensus: a conjoint analysis of attitudes toward immigrants. American Journal of Political Science 59 (3):529548.
Haller, M (2017) Die ‘Flüchtlingskrise’ in den Medien. Tagesaktueller Journalismus zwischen Meinung und Information. [The ‘refugee crisis’ in the media. Daily journalism between opinion and information.] Frankfurt: Otto-Brenner-Stiftung.
Hollinger, DA (2006) Post-ethnic America: Beyond Multiculturalism. New York: Basic Books.
Holmes, SM Castañeda, H (2016) Representing the ‘European refugee crisis’ in Germany and beyond: deservingness and difference, life and death. American Ethnologist 43 (1):1224.
Hooghe, L Marks, G (2005) Calculation, community and cues: public opinion on European integration. European Union Politics 6 (4):419443.
Janmaat, JG (2006) Popular conceptions of nationhood in old and new European member states: partial support for the ethnic-civic framework. Ethnic and Racial Studies 29 (1):5078.
Jones, FL Smith, P (2001) Diversity and commonality in national identities: an exploratory analysis of cross-national patterns. Journal of Sociology 37 (1):4563.
Keele, L Park, DK (2006) Difficult choices: an evaluation of heterogeneous choice models. Paper prepared for the 2004 Meeting of the American Political Science Association, 2–5 September 2004, Chicago, IL [revised version from 3 March 2006].
Keele, L Wolak, J (2006) Value conflict and volatility in party identification. British Journal of Political Science 36 (4):671690.
Kinnvall, C Nesbitt-Larking, P (2011) The Political Psychology of Globalization: Muslims in the West. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kohn, H (1944) The Idea of Nationalism: A Study in its Origins and Background. New York: Macmillan.
Kratz, A Schoen, H (2017) Just like leaves in the wind? Exploring the effect of the interplay of media coverage and personal characteristics on issue salience. In Schoen H et al. (eds), Voters and Voting in Context: Multiple Contexts and the Heterogeneous German Electorate. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 43–70.
Kronenberg, V (2013) Patriotismus in Deutschland. Perspektiven für eine weltoffene Nation. 3rd edition. [Patriotism in Germany. Perspectives for a cosmopolitan nation.] Wiesbaden: Springer.
Kunovich, RM (2009) The sources and consequences of national identification. American Sociological Review 74 (4):573593.
Kurthen, H (1995) Germany at the crossroads: national identity and the challenges of immigration. International Migration Review 29 (4):914938.
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.
Larsen, CA (2017) Revitalizing the ‘civic’ and ‘ethnic’ distinction. Perceptions of nationhood across two dimensions, 44 countries and two decades. Nations and Nationalism 23 (4):970993.
Lavine, H (2001) The electoral consequences of ambivalence toward presidential candidates. American Journal of Political Science 45 (4):915929.
Lavine, H (2004) Attitude ambivalence in the realm of politics. In Haddock G and Maio GR (eds), Contemporary Perspectives on the Psychology of Attitudes. New York: Psychology Press, pp. 111138.
Lieven, A (2004) America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism. New York: Oxford University Press.
Mader, M (2016) Stabilität und Wandel der nationalen Identität in der deutschen Bevölkerung. [Continuity and change of national identity in the German public.] Kölner Zeitschrift für Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 68 (3):435456.
Marsh, HW et al. (2014) Exploratory structural equation modeling: an integration of the best features of exploratory and confirmatory factor analysis. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology 10, 85110.
Mayda, AM Rodrik, D (2005) Why are some people (and countries) more protectionist than others? European Economic Review 49 (6):13931430.
McLaren, LM (2003) Anti-immigrant prejudice in Europe: contact, threat perception, and preferences for the exclusion of migrants. Social Forces 81 (3):909936.
Miller-Idris, C Rothenberg, B (2012) Ambivalence, pride and shame: conceptualisations of German nationhood. Nations and Nationalism 18 (1):132135.
Müller, J-W (2009) Constitutional Patriotism. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Mulligan, K (2013) Variability or moderation? The effects of ambivalence on political opinions. Political Behavior 35 (3):539565.
Mushaben, JM (2017) Wir schaffen das! Angela Merkel and the European refugee crisis. German Politics 26 (4):516533.
Newby-Clark, IR, McGregor, I Zanna, MP (2002) Thinking and caring about cognitive inconsistency: when and for whom does attitudinal ambivalence feel uncomfortable? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82 (2):157.
O’Rourke, KH Sinnott, R (2001) The determinants of individual trade policy preferences: international survey evidence. Brookings Trade Forum 157206.
Pautz, H (2005) The politics of identity in Germany: the Leitkultur debate. Race & Class 46 (4):3952.
Pehrson, S, Vignoles, VL Brown, R (2009) National identification and anti-immigrant prejudice: individual and contextual effects of national definitions. Social Psychology Quarterly 72 (1):2438.
Rankin, DM (2001) Identities, interests, and imports. Political Behavior 23 (4):351376.
Reeskens, T Hooghe, M (2010) Beyond the civic-ethnic dichotomy: investigating the structure of citizenship concepts across thirty-three countries. Nations and Nationalism 16 (4):579597.
Rivers, D (2006) Sample matching: representative sampling from internet panels. Polimetrix White Paper Series. Palo Alto, CA: WebSM. Available at (accessed 10 December 2018).
Roßteutscher, S et al. (2018) Short-term campaign panel 2017 (GLES), data file version 5.0.0. Available at
Rudolph, TJ (2005) Group attachment and the reduction of value-driven ambivalence. Political Psychology 26 (6):905928.
Rudolph, TJ Popp, E (2007) An information processing theory of ambivalence. Political Psychology 28 (5):563585.
Schildkraut, DJ (2007) Defining American identity in the twenty-first century: how much ‘there’ is there? Journal of Politics 69 (3):597615.
Shulman, S (2002) Challenging the civic/ethnic and West/East dichotomies in the study of nationalism. Comparative Political Studies 35 (5):554585.
Sides, J Citrin, J (2007) European opinion about immigration: the role of identities, interests and information. British Journal of Political Science 37 (3):477504.
Smith, AD (1991) National Identity. Las Vegas: University of Nevada Press.
Smith, RM (1988) The ‘American creed’ and American identity: the limits of liberal citizenship in the United States. Western Political Quarterly 41 (2):225251.
Sniderman, PM, Hagendoorn, L Prior, M (2004) Predisposing factors and situational triggers: exclusionary reactions to immigrant minorities. American Political Science Review 98 (1):3549.
Sniderman, PM Theriault, SM (2004) The structure of political argument and the logic of issue framing. In Saris WE (ed.), Studies in Public Opinion: Attitudes, Nonattitudes, Measurement Error, and Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 133165.
Steenbergen, MR Brewer, PR (2004) The not-so-ambivalent public: policy attitudes in the political culture of ambivalence. In Saris WE (ed.), Studies in Public Opinion: Attitudes, Nonattitudes, Measurement Error, and Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, pp. 93129.
Tajfel, H Turner, JC (1979) An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In Austin WG (ed.), The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole Publication, pp. 3347.
Theiss-Morse, E (2009) Who Counts As An American? The Boundaries of National Identity. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Thornton, JR (2011) Ambivalent or indifferent? Examining the validity of an objective measure of partisan ambivalence. Political Psychology 32 (5):863884.
Trauner, F Turton, J (2017) ‘Welcome culture’: the emergence and transformation of a public debate on migration. Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft 46 (1):3342.
Wagner, U et al. (2012) A longitudinal test of the relation between German nationalism, patriotism, and out-group derogation. European Sociological Review 28 (3):319332.
Weldon, SA (2006) The institutional context of tolerance for ethnic minorities: a comparative, multilevel analysis of Western Europe. American Journal of Political Science 50 (2):331349.
Williams, R (2010) Fitting heterogeneous choice models with oglm. Stata Journal 10 (4):540567.
Wittlinger, R (2010) German National Identity in the Twenty-First Century: A Different Republic After All? Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Wright, M, Citrin, J Wand, J (2012) Alternative measures of American national identity: Implications for the civic-ethnic distinction. Political Psychology 33 (4):469482.
Wright, M Reeskens, T (2013) Of what cloth are the ties that bind? National identity and support for the welfare state across 29 European countries. Journal of European Public Policy 20 (10):14431463.
Zaller, J Feldman, S (1992) A simple theory of the survey response: answering questions versus revealing preferences. American Journal of Political Science 36 (3):579616.
Zimmer, O (2003) Boundary mechanisms and symbolic resources: towards a process-oriented approach to national identity. Nations and Nationalism 9 (2):173193.


Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Lindstam et al. Dataset

Supplementary materials

Lindstam et al. supplementary material
Lindstam et al. supplementary material 1

 PDF (621 KB)
621 KB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed