“‘Down-to-Earth Citizens’ or ‘Socially-Minded Cosmopolitans’ ? – How Voters’ Self-Described Group Identities relate to Party Preferences”

Political polarization between the new left and the far right has triggered renewed interest in the politics of identity. This paper uses quantitative text analysis to investigate how Swiss voters describe their in-groups and out-groups in response to open-ended questions in two original surveys. I focus on group identities underpinning a ‘second’, universalist-particularist dimension of politics (where new left and far right parties occupy the poles). I use a semi-supervised document scaling method – latent semantic scaling – to identify terms associated with the poles of this divide in voters’ identity descriptions. This scaling model, combined with a dictionary approach, serves to measure universalist versus particularist identity in individuals’ responses. The resulting identity measures contribute substantially to explaining preferences for new left versus far right parties. Moreover, voters’ specific identity descriptions strongly support the idea that the universalist-particularist divide is emerging as a fully-fledged electoral ‘cleavage’, consolidated by distinctive, antagonistic collective identities.