Identity Voting


PUBLIC CHOICE, October 2016, Volume 169, Issue 1, pp 77–95

Abstract: This paper analyzes voting behavior in parliamentary elections in which positional and identity issues sustain the party system. We extend the conventional spatial voting model to incorporate identity issues. Identity is tied to the race, language, religion or culture of the voters and both voters and political parties may belong to different identity groups. By identity voting we show that voters, who are otherwise centrist, move toward the parties that align with their identities. To illustrate the mechanics of identity voting, we provide an empirical analysis of parliamentary elections to the Basque Autonomous Community. Besides the two positional issues in the region—left–right ideology and nationalism—we show that language and Basque sentiment have significant effects on voting. Our analysis suggests that identity voting polarizes voters and can sustain stable multi-party systems. This finding is of immediate importance to other regions and countries where the electorate is divided by strong ties to different religions, languages or cultures.