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Municipal Identity and City Interests

Abstract

What are the behavioral consequences of municipal identity? A long tradition of public policy theory has emphasized how municipal policymaking is shaped by local residents’ shared interest in the prestige, power, and economic growth of their cities. A separate tradition of social identity theory shows that perceived membership in politically salient groups, including place-based identities, shapes political behavior, particularly in the context of intergroup rivalry. This paper integrates insights from these two traditions, providing a novel analysis of municipalities as a source of meaningful group identity. Using two large Canadian surveys, we measure municipal identity as a social identity, demonstrating that municipalities provide a meaningful basis of social identity for many individuals. We then show that municipal identity has important political correlates: strong municipal identifiers have higher levels of interest in municipal politics, higher participation in municipal elections, and distinctive policy preferences on issues related to municipal status and intermunicipal competition. We discuss the implications of our findings for political behavior, municipal politics, and social identity research.

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Notes

  1. Replication materials for this study can be accessed at: https://doi.org/10.5683/SP2/DNQLRO.

  2. There is also a body of research on regional identity that sometimes draws on social identity theory and/or the concept of place identity (e.g. Donnelly 2021; Holm and Geys 2018; Rico and Jennings 2012).

  3. This scale shares similarities with the Identification with a Psychological Group (IDPG) scale proposed by Mael and Tetrick (1992), variations of which have been used to study a range of social identities in political science (e.g. Greene 2000; Lacombe et al. 2019; Besco 2015; Goodyear-Grant and Tolley 2019).

  4. One exception is Lunz Trujillo (2021), who in a working paper uses a similar scale to measure “rural” identity.

  5. For a recent exception, see Hooghe and Stiers (2021), who examine the relationship between identification with Ghent, Belgium and immigrant attitudes.

  6. This overlap is more likely in the more consolidated boundaries that are characteristic of Canadian municipalities than in the United States, where extensive municipal fragmentation is more common.

  7. The OEPS was undertaken by a team of researchers led by Nathan Grasse at Carleton University.

  8. In Huddy et al. (2015), \(\alpha\) = 0.74 and 0.85 for the partisan identity battery across the two samples.

  9. In the Supplementary Material (SM2) we show that our results are substantively identical when using Monte Carlo integration to propagate uncertainty in the latent measure through subsequent regression models.

  10. While Cara Wong found that homeownership was not consistently related to local attachment, we would ideally also examine the relationship between home ownership and municipal identity, but we lack a homeownership variable in our full sample. However, analyses on a restricted sample of Calgarians for which we have data does not find a relationship between homeownership and municipal identity (see SM4).

  11. Unfortunately, we do not have access to data that would allow for a formal test of the difference between partisan identity and municipal identity. Comparing our results with a measure of national identity using replication data from Levendusky (2017), which uses a nearly identical social identity question battery, we find that Calgary municipal identity is 0.07 lower, on average, than American national identity (p < 0.01) and Ontario municipal identity is 0.25 lower, on average, than American national identity (p < 0.01). These results suggest, unsurprisingly, that municipal identity in Canada does not rival the strength of American national identity, but comes reasonably close in places with particularly strong levels of municipal identity. Once again, however, results from Huddy et al. (2015) using an identical question battery suggest that Canadian municipal identity is very similar in magnitude to American partisan identity.

  12. The difference between the highest values in Ontario and Calgary’s average value (0.74) may be due in part to the difference in question wording between “Calgarian” and “a [municipality name] person”. We note that none of our findings depend on the baseline difference in municipal identity between the two samples. We hope to explore the measurement implications of these wording strategies in future research.

  13. We show in SM4 that the results discussed here are substantively identical in an OLS model without fixed effects and in a multilevel linear model with varying intercepts by municipality.

  14. For example, Wong (2010) examines the relationship between Black, Hispanic, and immigrant generation and place identity, but her results yield inconclusive patterns.

  15. Because we have rescaled all variables in these models, we note that “weak identifiers”, in our models, are those with the minimum observed municipal identity value in our sample, and “strong identifiers” are those with the maximum observed municipal identity value.

  16. Full tables along with linear probability models are in SM6.

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Acknowledgements

Jack Lucas acknowledges funding from the University of Calgary School of Public Policy, and from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (IDG 430-2016-00181).

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Correspondence to Sophie Borwein.

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Borwein, S., Lucas, J. Municipal Identity and City Interests. Polit Behav (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-021-09735-5

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Keywords

  • Social identity
  • Municipal identity
  • Turnout
  • Political interest
  • Urban politics