Politicized Group Identification: the Case of Fundamentalism

Published date01 March 1991
Date01 March 1991
Subject MatterArticles
TED G. JELEN, Georgetown Uniaersity
many citizens, group identifications provide cognitive struc-
M~ tures through which the political world can be viewed. Group-
related attitudes seem to be important means by which political
beliefs can be organized and evaluated. The decade of the eighties has
seen a renewed research emphasis on the political importance of group
identifications. (See especially Conover 1985; Leege et al. 1989; Klein
1984; Guth et al., 1988; and Price 1989). Conover and Feldman (1981)
have argued that group attitudes are the principal means by which
perceptions of societal conflict are structured. Conover (1984) has fur-
ther characterized group identification as a form of &dquo;schema,&dquo; which
provides an intermediate link between an individual citizen’s self-
perception and the larger political community.
The number and variety of group identifications which this more
recent research has uncovered raises an important question: Since many
diflerent group identifications are avaiable to any given person, how
and why do only a few become politically relevant? In a relatively
early work, Miller and associates argue that a poiitically relevant group
consciousness has four distinct parts: (a) &dquo;Group identification&dquo; (a feel-
ing of belonging); (b) &dquo;polar affect,&dquo; or a positive feeling toward mem-
bers of one’s own group, and negative feelings toward members of vis-
ible &dquo;out-groups&dquo;; (c) &dquo;polar power,&dquo; referring to beliefs about the power
of one’s own group, relative to others; and (d) &dquo;individual versus sys-
tem blame,&dquo; or beliefs about the extent to which one’s social status is
attributable to one’s own efforts, as opposed to more macro-level in-
equities. Miller et al. show that these attitudes do a better job of
explaining variation in political participation in interaction (in various
combinations) than they do individually or in additive combinations.
Multiplicative interactions between combinations of these four attitudes
account for more variation in political activity than do linear combi-
nations of the same variables.
RECEIVED: January 30, 1990
NOTE: Thanks are due the editor and to three anonymous reviewers, whose comments
on an earlier draft of this paper were of great benefit.

Miller et al. apply this interactive strategy to a number of different
group identifications, including age groups, gender identifications, racial
identifications, and economic classifications. In general, the model works
better for disadvantaged groups than for &dquo;dominant&dquo; groups, and per-
forms better for specific, as opposed to diffuse, groups. For example, a
politicized feminist consciousness will account for more participation
among women than an equivalent &dquo;masculine&dquo; consciousness among
men, and an identification as a &dquo;businessman&dquo; has more explanatory
power than identification as &dquo;white.&dquo; Nevertheless, the model offered
by Miller and his colleagues is clearly intended to have general appli-
The purpose of this brief study is to replicate partially the research
of Miller et al., using the religious group identification of &dquo;fun-
damentalist.&dquo; One of the major political trends of the past decades has
been the political mobilization of doctrinally conservative Christians.
Recent research into the connection between religious beliefs and polit-
ical attitudes has stressed the political importance of &dquo;fundamentalist&dquo;
self-identification. (See Falwell 1981; Rothenberg and Newport 1984;
Beatty and Walter 1988; Guthe and Green 1989; Wilcox 1986, 1989a,
1989b; and Smidt 1988). One’s own sense of a fundamentalist identi-
fication may provide a broad religious affiliation which may transcend
membership in a particular denomination.
The extent to which fundamentalist identification is associated with
political involvement is of interest for at least two reasons. First, the
social status of doctrinally conservative religious groups is both ambig-
uous and controversial (see especially Wald et al. 1989). As such, fun-
damentalist identification provides an interesting intermediate case
between the &dquo;subordinate&dquo; and &dquo;dominant&dquo; groups examined by Miller
et al. Second, attempts to make a fundamentalist group identification
the basis of political mobilization have included descriptions of dis-
liked out-groups. For example, Jerry Falwell’s recently terminated Moral
Majority could fairly be described as anti-feminist, anti-liberal, anti-
homosexual, anti-atheist, and anti-&dquo;secular humanist&dquo; (see Falwell 1980;
150-64, 181-86, 204-13.) While Falwell quite explicitly condemns &dquo;the
sin,&dquo; rather than &dquo;the sinner,&dquo; it is nevertheless clear that, in Falwell’s
view, the power of these &dquo;non-Christian&dquo; groups provide much of the
impetus for fundamentalist political involvement. Thus, fundamental-
ist self-identification and attitudes toward out-groups defined by fun-
damentalist elites provide an...

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