Partisan polarisation has long been studied by communication scholars, from conflict displacement to ideological realignment and to social identity. Individuals tend to act according to group norms if they are identified to a group, sometimes even ignore scientific facts and support policy decisions as long as the majority in the party do so. Iyengar describes this phenomenon as affective polarisation and argues partisan tend to have a hostile feeling, if not discriminate out-group members, i.e. those in other parties.To what extent can this proposition be generalized to other places or is it America-centric?
Using the 2017 Hong Kong Chief Executive Election as an example, I believe cultural identity sometimes are more important than partisan identity, and hostile feelings not only exists in mass but also elite level.
Unlike America, Hong Kong is a battlefield between two cultures. On one side it is the colony that left Hong Kong with British system and turned a small village into an international financial center, on the other is the rising Authoritarian regime. Facing the tightening grip of Beijing, many worries Hong Kong will be turned into just another ordinary city in China. The uniqueness of Hong Kong, for instance, freedom of speech and fairness of elections, are diminishing as Beijing abducted Hong Kong booksellers and interfere elections in Hong Kong.
Chief executive candidate must gain support from 1200 election committee members, where pan-democrats have less than 350 seats and pro-Beijing own a majority. Carrie Lam and John Tsang were the front runners in the election, and they have extremely similar background: both were the former members of the government (i.e. mostly support Beijing’s decision). The only difference between them is Lam had support from Beijing while Tsang did not. Pan-democrats abandoned their underlying ideological difference and supported John Tsang, who is the member of pro-Beijing.Both partisan group and cultural group exists in the city.
John Tsang was supported by pan-democrats, not because of his political identity but cultural identity: he remains British humor and unlike Chinese officials, is willing to open to (or at least to create a perception) public examination. These cultural characteristics allowed Tsang to get support from pan-democrats.While Iyengar’s framework works well in America, more discussion and study are needed to extend it to other cultural contexts, especially contest with two conflicting cultures.
Iyengar, S., Sood, G., & Lelkes, Y. (2012). Affect, Not Ideology: A Social Identity Perspective on Polarization. Public Opinion Quarterly, 76(3), 405–431. https://doi.org/10.1093/poq/nfs038
Iyengar, S., & Westwood, S. J. (2015). Fear and Loathing across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization. American Journal of Political Science, 59(3), 690–707. https://doi.org/10.1111/ajps.12152