Morten Pettersson

Identity in Political Opinion Formation: How Information Shapes the Influence of Citizens’ Identities on Political Opinions

This dissertation advances our existing understanding of the conditions under which citizens’ identities affect their political opinions and evaluations. Citizens’ identities based on attachments to groups such as ethnicity, party or other groups are often portrayed as an important explanation for their opinion about political issues. However, little is known about when citizens’ identities actually become important and shape their views on a specific issue. Based on a series of studies using quasi-experiments with rolling cross-sectional data and randomized survey-experiments, the dissertation shows that identities shape people’s opinion on a political issue when they receive information that connects the issue to their group’s interest. Furthermore, the dissertation examines how potent events such as a group-led rally or arguments from policy debates can clarify that a group’s interest is at stake on a political issue and thereby make an identity important to citizens’ opinion. Combined, these findings shed new light on how information from the political context – both from events and policy arguments – plays a key role in shaping whether citizens’ identities affect their opinion on political issues. This dissertation will be of interest to all who care about identities, public opinion formation and the role of political communication in identity politics.

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