Resisting the Call of Nativism: What U.S. Political Parties Can Learn From Other Democracies

Rachel Kleinfeld, John Dickas
Content Type
Working Paper
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
Nativism has once again gained momentum in U.S. politics. This tendency to define nationhood not by values or laws but in racial, ethnic, or religious terms is not new. Yet nativism is inherently undemocratic because nativists demote citizens who have the “wrong” characteristics to, at best, second-class citizenship. As nativist voters flex their muscle, what can political parties on both sides of the aisle do to put the genie back in the bottle? Examining how Austria, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, and Italy have addressed nativism in their politics offers some useful lessons. Case studies of these countries’ experiences indicate that: Nativists can be found on both sides of the political spectrum. Though currently congregating in conservative parties globally, nativists’ preference for redistributive economics that are restricted to their preferred group make them “swing” voters who may vote for candidates on the left or right. Mainstream parties that embrace or collaborate with nativists often believe they can temper nativist preferences. Instead, they tend to absorb the nativists’ views. Nativists then either take over the establishment party or beat it in elections. Changing the subject to economic issues or other topics does not seem to work as well as addressing nativism directly. Parties that condemn and reject nativists sometimes pay short-term electoral costs but are able to keep nativists from taking over their policy agenda. Rejecting nativist politicians does not necessarily reduce the appeal of nativism. Blocking nativist politicians can lead to splinter parties and factions. It does, however, seem to keep nativism from spreading and becoming legitimized.
Democracy, Domestic politics, Political Parties, Nativism
Political Geography
North America, United States of America