Careless Whisper: Political Elite Discourses Activate National Identities for Far-right Voting Preferences

Antonia C. May & Christian S. Czymara

APA citation: May, A. C., & Czymara, C. S. (2024). Careless whisper: Political elite discourses activate national identities for far‐right voting preferences. Nations and Nationalism, 30(1), 90-109.


While exclusionary national identities are widespread among Europeans, relatively few people vote for the far right in most countries. Thus, an exclusionary identity in many cases does not lead to voting for the most nativist types of parties. We explain this empirical puzzle by showing that these identities need to be activated to become behaviourally relevant. To this end, we analyse longitudinal comparative data of over 135,000 individuals across more than 26 years and 26 countries combining different survey programmes and manifesto data. We use latent class analysis to show that over half of respondents hold exclusionary conceptions of nationhood. Moreover, this type of national identity predicts voting far right. Using multi-level modelling and within-country estimators, we further demonstrate that this relationship is significantly stronger when a country’s political elites across all parties become more exclusionary. Taking the activation hypothesis to the test in a European context, we conclude that the effect of national identity is conditional on its prior activation.

Media coverage

  • “Mainstream parties adopting far-right rhetoric simply increases votes for far-right parties” (The Loop) (republished at Social Europe)
  • “Nationalist rhetoric promotes right-wing parties” (
  • “Exclusionary rhetoric use by any political party increases votes for far-right parties” (
  • “Exclusionary Rhetoric Use by Any Political Party Increases Votes for Far-Right Parties” (GESIS Blog)
  • “Nationalistische Rhetorik hilft rechten Parteien” (
  • “Nationalistische Rhetorik fördert rechte Parteien” (
  • “Imiter l’extrême droite pour lui prendre des voix, un très mauvais calcul électoral” (Alternatives Economiques)


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