Developed democracies in Europe and elsewhere are experiencing an unprecedented influx of culturally diverse immigrants and asylum seekers into their national communities. For the study of political psychology, a critical issue is how the pattern of ethnic group relations affects process of identity formation and change and, derivatively, the pattern of public support for a range of public policies with implications for social inclusion and equality. While there has been extensive commentary on the issue of multiculturalism both in America and abroad, the specific question of how the perceived threat of heightened immigrant diversity on the normative content of national identity (that is, the question of "who are we") has only recently begun to receive systematic attention in the scholarly literature.
Multiculturalism has both a purely demographic and a political meaning. The politics of diversity also refers to specific policies governments enact in order to either encourage or discourage cultural pluralism. The specific policies at issue typically refer to the representation and recognition of minority groups and may encompass affirmative action, language policies, border control, access to welfare state programs, and citizenship laws. Debate has raged for years among political philosophers of multiculturalism over the desirability of such policies. Some suggest that government policies devoted to "cultural recognition" and minority group representation ease political tensions in these increasingly diverse communities and promote national loyalty. Others suggest the reverse: government attempts to promote cultural recognition through multiculturalism policy harden barriers among groups, foster prejudice and hostility to immigration, and erode the overall sense of national attachment in a country. This debate, too, has only now begun to receive rigorous empirical scrutiny.
The present study examines three main questions: first, how can we think about what the social boundaries of the national community might be, and why do they matter? Are narrower, more bounded notions of the nation in-group related to mass preferences on
immigration, immigrants, and cultural diversity more generally? More centrally, this study examines how immigrant diversity and policies of cultural recognition shape mainstream citizens' conceptions of normative national identity. Is it indeed the case that ethnic diversity and political multiculturalism undermine social harmony, by provoking - via cultural threat - the desire among mainstream citizens to adhere to a more "ascriptive" and exclusionary definition of who truly belongs on their soil? Finally, I go to the heart of the philosophical debates on cultural recognition, by asking whether immigrants' allegiance to the nation is in indeed undermined in "multicultural" nations. Are they less willing to participate in the political process? Do they have less faith in the political system and governing institutions? Are they less trusting and/or socially engaged?
Merging aggregate level economic and demographic measures with cross-national public opinion data, I argue that mass publics do indeed seem to have reacted to increased levels of immigrant diversity by constraining their notion of who truly belongs to the national community along more "ethnic" lines. Furthermore, this backlash has been heightened in the countries that have more fully committed themselves to cultural recognition, versus those that have favored minority integration; this finding provides empirical support for many of the philosophical critiques of multiculturalism that have emerged vociferously in recent years. On the other hand, immigrants themselves appear to benefit from political multiculturalism, all else equal; they exhibit higher levels of satisfaction with politics and politicians in their adoptive nation, and perceive substantially less discrimination against them along ethnic, racial, linguistic, and religious lines.