Nationhood in a Pandemic, Nordic Gold or Nordic Noir? The Interplay between National Identity, Political Trust, Affective Polarization, and Attitudes to Immigrants in Denmark and Sweden in 2020-2021

The ongoing pandemic is testing our societies in the midst of a democratic recession, driven by escalating political distrust, polarization, and anti-immigrant sentiments. This project fills an urgent research gap by studying different dimensions of national identity and their different links to political trust, affective polarization (the attribution of bad personal characteristic to political opponents), and minority inclusion. The context in which we do so is Danish and Swedish public opinion and public debates during the Covid-19 crisis.

The solution, according to the growing literature on ‘inclusive patriotism’ and ‘liberal nationalism’, lies in a strongly felt yet democratically open national identity able to bridge groups divided by class, ideology, and ethnicity. Empirical studies, however, have focused on how national identity affects social trust and economic solidarity - but not on its effects on political trust and polarization – which are at the heart of the democratic crisis – and especially not outside of North America.

– Sweden and Denmark are often mentioned as promising candidates for democratic national identities. Yet empirical research on contemporary national identity in this context has focused on anti-immigrant voters, not the (seemingly, at least) more inclusive national identity of the majority, whose political trust remains high, affective polarization low, and national pride revolves around the welfare state and democracy. These all became particularly salient themes during the pandemic, says project leader Gina Gustavsson.

This project employs mixed methods, analyzing both new and unique survey data and narratives of national identity in the covid debates in both countries. This enables the researchers to address worrying tensions, such as why civic nationalism in the Nordic countries seems to have a particularly Islamophobic side, and whether narratives of high-trusting Danes and Swedes also come with a darker side: the othering of immigrants during the pandemic.

Principal Investigator: Gina Gustavsson (Department of Government)

Period: January 2021– December 2023

Funding: SEK 4 950 000 SEK from Forte

Gina Gustavsson

Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor at Department of Government, Faculty

+4618-471 3349

Research team

Gina Gustavsson, Department of Government, Uppsala University

Maria Nordbrandt Bergström, Department of Government, Uppsala University

Karen Breidahl, Aalborgs University

Per Mouritsen, Aarhus University

Last modified: 2022-02-14