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By: Sri Hari Mangalam* |


Ethnocentrism is defined as the belief in the superiority of the nation, culture or group that one belongs to, often accompanied by a dislike or distaste for other communities (Collinsdictionary.com, 2019). It is understood to be a technical word for a formulative understanding that one’s own beliefs are at the center of everything and the surrounding aspects of society, gravitates and revolves around it (Sumner, 1906). This comprehension makes members of society ‘culturally rigid’ or ‘ethnically centered’ i.e., taut in their acceptance of the culturally alike and overtly rejection able of the unlike (Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson and Sanford, 1950). An example of such a comprehension can be traced back to the times of the ancient Greeks who believed that everybody, other than them, was barbarians with next to no positive qualities and that all idiosyncrasies were present within their community itself (Gumplowicz, 1887). A similar belief still prevails around and throughout the world, daily indications such as the treatment of outsiders with animosity and suspicion are proof (Kinder and Kam, 2009). Similar analysis and study of Ethnocentrism, as established above, has been widely performed; however, its examination with respect to electoral politics, the topic of this paper, is fairly new, with hardly any empirical studies executed dealing with its effects on political elections and public opinion. (Kinder and Kam, 2009). Nonetheless, this lapse in research and study is a substantial one as an ethnocentric view has far-reaching effects and consequences, even changing or substantiating the political viewpoint of both individuals and groups. Ethnocentric ideals can formulate fundamental opinions and ideologies for individuals based on their communal beliefs and geocentric understandings, which has an obvious and systematic transition into how they vote, who they vote for and what their stance is on issues of political interest.

Ethnocentrism’s Accentuated Impact

Ethnocentrism is essentially generalized prejudice i.e., the propensity or the practice to divide the world into groups and out-groups (Kinder and Kam, 2009). Kinder and Kam in their tome define ethnocentrism as the practice of dividing the world and the people in it, into two opposing camps or into groups with contradictory vested interests. It is done so in order to emphasize the idea of group superiority and centrality (Booth, 2014). Extracting from this central understanding of the basic comprehension of ethnocentrism i.e., the practice of groupism through its convention, it can be derived as to how it is used as a tool for politicking and solicitation in the political sphere. In reference, it is a formative ideology or a fundamental practice that affects the political setup of various democracies around the globe (Bizumic, 2014). This idea can be elaborated further while analyzing the 2008 United States presidential elections and its commensurable heterogenous intricacies. In the 2008 elections, ethnocentrism played a very important role in the final outcome. The two opposing candidates, Obama and McCain gained and lost votes on account of a lot of factors such as their policies, opinions, schemes etc., However, the underlying assumption of the voters from either side was the normalized ethnocentric beliefs under whose light, they viewed the opinions or policies of the two. Even though, there is no doubt about the fact that Obama gained and lost votes because of his democratic stance and so was the case for McCain with reference to his political outlook as there was a clear enough distinction, with the Liberals going towards Obama and the conservatives moving in favor of McCain. Nonetheless, the centric idea behind the voters thought process before voting for the candidates remained the same ethnocentric beliefs. This understanding can be substantiated in reference to the study done by Dr Kam and Dr Kinder that covers the voting pattern of the 2008 elections. In their systematic and statistical study, they uncovered that ethnocentric ideals did have a significant effect on the turnout, elaborating the strong under the connection between the restrictive ethnic beliefs of the people and relegated opposition for Obama (Kinder and Kam, 2009). They studied and elaborated the correlation between authoritarianism and ethnocentrism wherein, the voters in agreement with their ethnocentric ideals voted for authoritative existing structures and the conservative ideology i.e., for McCain, those looking towards a less centralized and conservative approach and for a more democratic and inclusive set up went towards Obama. A few policies of the latter would include the empowerment through diversity program and the Joint Comprehensive Action Plan. Accordingly, Dr. Kam and Dr. Kinder uncovered the reasoning behind the people thinking about the candidates in a particular manner and allowed the innate underlying feeling or belief to be brought about in reference while studying the distinctive choices. This study helps in elaborating the effect of ethnocentric comprehensions in the actions of the voters herby the political sphere. It sheds light upon the understanding and comprehensions of voters and its subsequent effect on their choices.

Another study that can be used to evaluate the discussed ethnocentric understanding is one conducted on the recent democratic elections in Ghana (Graham and Faanu, 2017). This study covers a rather peculiar understanding of Ethnocentrism. Ethnocentric beliefs are rife around the world and more so in the African continent, with ethnicity being a major factor in the decision of the voters (Lindberg And Morrison, 2008). Though despite such widespread beliefs, ethnocentric violence or outward ethnic aggression is heavily controlled in Ghana because of their comprehensive emphasis on peaceful ongoings by various institutions of the country (Arthur, 2009). The study was conducted in reference to politicking and how ethnocentrism affects it. This political practice of ethnic generalization and vote gathering is conducted throughout the country under the backdrop of ethnocentric ideals (Chazan, 1982). All parties promulgate the ethnic drift to amass votes during elections. This strategic force to wield votes is essentially based on the ethnocentric understandings of the voters and how the politicians manipulate and utilize them for their own gain (Smock and Smock, 1975). Such practices are pellucid upon the political capitalization of ethnic and ethnocentric ideals of people. This study, increasingly, elaborates upon the underlying and subverted but extremely essential understanding of how ethnocentric ideals and its undertones affects the political aspect or the general elections of the country. It covers how ethnocentrism is a strategic political instrument used for the garnering of favor and the solicitation of votes in a country’s setup.

It is in the backdrop of these studies and inquisitions into centralized beliefs of individuals and communities that it can be understood how much ethnocentric ideals have to play in the political outlook and how much influence it fundamentally has.


The nuances of a concept like ethnocentrism can be dealt in much more detail and with a lot more debate, however, restricting to the political aspect and its influence in this sphere the resultant deliberations have been produced. With this descriptive and centralized understanding of the influence of such beliefs in our social as well as electoral lives; the integration of this information can be used in our comprehension of the said spheres and the relative choices we choose to make.

It is important that we understand the effects of this concept in our political sphere and the politics and elections of our country whilst realizing the reasoning behind the political choices of the people and those of our own. It is essential to have such an understanding and retrospective and prospective application of this understanding while making our choices, in order for us, as parts of the system, to shape a more integrative political arena and not a restrictive one based around ethnocentric ideals.


* The author is a student at WBNUJS, Kolkata.

End Notes

1) Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick E., Levinson D.J. and Sanford R.N. 1950. The authoritarian personality. New York: Harper and Row.

2) Arthur. 2009. “Ethnicity and Electoral Politics in Ghana’s Fourth Republic.” Africa Today 56(2): 45-73.

3) Bizumic. 2014. “Who Coined the Term Ethnocentrism? A Brief Report.” Journal of Social and Political Psychology. Retrieved October 12, 2019


4) Booth. 2014. Strategy and ethnocentrism. London: Routledge.

5) Chazan. 1982. “Ethnicity and Politics in Ghana.” Political Science Quarterly 97(3): 461-85.

6) Graham, Faanu P. 2017.” The Politics of ethnocentrism: A Viability Test of Ghana’s Democracy.” International Journal of Behavioral Development. retrieved October 13, 2019. (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0975087817715534?journalCode=ioaa).

7) Gumplowicz. 1887. System socyologii. Warsaw, Poland: Spolka Nakladowa.

8) Kinder, Kam C.D. 2009. Us against them: Ethnocentric foundations of American opinion. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.

9) Lindberg, Morrison M.K. 2008.” Are African Voters Really Ethnic or Clientelistic? Survey Evidence from Ghana.” Political Science Quarterly 123(1): 95-122.

10) Smock, Smock A.C. 1975. The Politics of Pluralism: A comparative Study of Lebanon and Ghana. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

11) Sumner. 1906. Folkways: A study of the sociological importance of usages, manners, customs, mores, and morals. Boston, MA: Ginn and Company.

Image Source: https://pages.vassar.edu/realarchaeology/2013/09/22/ethnocentrism-in-archaeology/



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