Creating ‘Us and Them’: Racial Propaganda, Insularity and Right-Wing Ideology
What determines the efficacy of identity-based propaganda, and how long-lasting are its effects? To shed light on these questions, I study the impact of the Swedish State Institute for Race Biology’s popularisation of race biology on right-wing ideology in the short and long run. In a popular book edition of its systematic classification of the Swedish population according to “Nordic purity”, the Institute identified particularly “pure” areas of the country. Implementing a differences-in-differences strategy, I document the effect of the publication on right-wing ideology: following the publication, election districts of above-median “Swedishness” exhibit a 3.4 percentage point relative increase in the vote share of right-wing parties. This effect is concentrated in areas with little immigration, suggesting that insular communities may be particularly susceptible to this type of racial rhetoric. Using data on library funding as a proxy for the accessibility of the book, I show that districts with good access drive the results. Media is critical in propagating the effect: the “Swedishness” effect is present only in regions with high levels of exposure to race-biological news media. I corroborate my findings with data on the complete incoming correspondence of the Institute, showing that above-median “Swedish” regions become more directly involved with the Institute after the publication of the book. Finally, the rightward turn appears to persist over time: present-day municipalities in formerly above-median “Swedish” regions exhibit a higher relative vote share for the Sweden Democrats, a populist party with roots in the extreme right.