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National Identity and Support for the Welfare State


  • Johnston, Richard

    (University of British Columbia)

  • Banting, Keith

    () (Queen's University)

  • Kymlicka, Will

    (Queen's University)

  • Soroka, Stuart

    (McGill University)


This paper examines the role of national identity in sustaining public support for the welfare state. Liberal nationalist theorists argue that social justice will always be easier to achieve in states with strong national identities which, they contend, can both mitigate opposition to redistribution among high-income earners and reduce any corroding effects of ethnic diversity resulting from immigration. We test these propositions with Canadian data from the Equality, Security and Community survey. We conclude that national identity does increase support for the welfare state among affluent majority Canadians, and that it helps to protect the welfare state from toxic effects of cultural suspicion. However, we also find that identity plays a narrower role than existing theories of liberal nationalism suggest, and that the mechanisms through which it works are different. This leads us to suggest an alternative theory of the relationship between national identity and the welfare state, one that suggests that the relationship is highly contingent, reflecting distinctive features of the history and national narratives of each country. National identity may not have any general tendency to strengthen support for redistribution, but it may do so for those aspects of the welfare state seen as having played a particularly important role in building the nation, or in enabling it to overcome particular challenges or crises.

Suggested Citation

  • Johnston, Richard & Banting, Keith & Kymlicka, Will & Soroka, Stuart, 2010. "National Identity and Support for the Welfare State," SULCIS Working Papers 2010:11, Stockholm University, Linnaeus Center for Integration Studies - SULCIS.
  • Handle: RePEc:hhs:sulcis:2010_011

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Anna Maria Mayda, 2006. "Who Is Against Immigration? A Cross-Country Investigation of Individual Attitudes toward Immigrants," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 88(3), pages 510-530, August.
    2. Alberto Alesina & Reza Baqir & William Easterly, 1999. "Public Goods and Ethnic Divisions," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(4), pages 1243-1284.
    3. Erzo F. P. Luttmer, 2001. "Group Loyalty and the Taste for Redistribution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 109(3), pages 500-528, June.
    4. Fearon, James D, 2003. "Ethnic and Cultural Diversity by Country," Journal of Economic Growth, Springer, vol. 8(2), pages 195-222, June.
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    Cited by:

    1. Joan Costa-i-Font & Frank Cowell, 2015. "European Identity and Redistributive Preferences," CESifo Working Paper Series 5412, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. Shanto Iyengar, 2013. "Racial Cues and Attitudes toward Redistribution: A Comparative Experimental Approach," EUI-RSCAS Working Papers 59, European University Institute (EUI), Robert Schuman Centre of Advanced Studies (RSCAS).
    3. Salnikova, Daria, 2014. "Modeling the relationship between subjective economic well-being of citizens and their support for the welfare state institutions in the EU member countries," Applied Econometrics, Publishing House "SINERGIA PRESS", vol. 33(1), pages 71-89.
    4. Holm, Joshua, 2016. "A model of redistribution under social identification in heterogeneous federations," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 143(C), pages 39-48.
    5. Benny Geys & Kai A. Konrad, 2016. "Patriotism and Taxation," Working Papers tax-mpg-rps-2016-11, Max Planck Institute for Tax Law and Public Finance.

    More about this item


    ethnic diversity; national identity; redistribution;

    JEL classification:

    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • I30 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Welfare, Well-Being, and Poverty - - - General
    • J15 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Minorities, Races, Indigenous Peoples, and Immigrants; Non-labor Discrimination

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