Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2010

The Individual Sources of Economic Nationalism: Evidence From Survey Data

Pablo M. Pinto, Carmen M. Le Foulon

December 2007

Arnold A. Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies


Political leaders in troubled democracies around the world have resorted to an anti-foreign rhetoric to justify the adoption of policies restricting foreign imports, and the free flow of capital and people, allegedly in defense of the national interest. And this rhetoric has resonated positively with large sectors of the electorate in those countries. A similar trend, exploiting a nationalistic sentiment for economic purposes, is observed in campaigns in the United States to buy American. Most studies to date have analyzed the causes and consequences of economic nationalism at the state level. However, there is good reason to believe that sources of economic nationalism should be traced at the individual level: some individuals might be willing to embrace economic nationalism purely on self-interest, yet others will be forced to trade off material and ideational preferences in order to support the national industry. The existence of this tradeoff at the individual level has important implications for coalition formation on trade, investment and migration policy-making. While recent studies suggest that cultural and ideational interests are likely to influence individual attitudes towards trade, one of the central policy dimensions in economic nationalism, the empirical content of the tradeoff between material and non-material preferences remains untested to date. Using data from the International Social Survey Program (ISSP 2003) we explore whether the effect of nationalism on attitudes towards protectionism varies with the individual’s position in the economy. We find preliminary evidence that nationalism systematically affects attitudes towards trade in the United States, but less so in the Philippines. We also find that the effect of nationalism is conditional on individuals’ skill, or position in the economy.