The study by the University of Münster took a scientific look at a phenomenon that many people have become aware of in recent years due to increasingly aggressive demonstrations against migration policy, lockdowns and other touch-stone issues.
“Who belongs to our country, who threatens whom, who is disadvantaged? It’s amazing how far apart the positions are across quite a few conflict issues,” co-author Mitja Back told DPA.
Based on a survey of 1,400 Germans, Back and his colleagues found that 20 percent of the population fell into the camp of ‘defenders’, while 14 percent belong to the opposing camp of ‘explorers’. In between are two groups who hold more diverse “centrist positions.”
What defines the two camps?
‘Defenders’ tend to believe that German identity is formed by birth, having German ancestors, having spent most of one’s life in Germany, and having Christian roots.
At the same time, roughly half of this group feel threatened by “foreigners” – i.e. Muslims or refugees – and see themselves as culturally disadvantaged. Only a small proportion of ‘defenders’ are satisfied with democracy; few of them trust the government and parliament.
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According to the survey, every fourth person in this group has a low social status; better educated people are less represented than in the “explorers” group.
Among the explorers, the researchers identified only a minority who supported a narrow concept of belonging based on ethno-religious criteria.
No one felt threatened to any great extent by Muslims and refugees. Instead, they saw immigration and diversity as opportunities. The majority of explorers were satisfied with democracy and had a high level of trust in political institutions.
Explorers are comparatively well educated and tend not to be affected by material hardship.
The population survey was also conducted in France, Sweden and Poland. According to the authors, the conclusions for Germany can also be applied fairly broadly to France and Sweden.
All in all, around 5,000 people were surveyed by the market research company Kantar at the end of 2020.
Aggressive vs. arrogant
The study can also be read as a warning to politicians about the threat of further polarization.
It found that ‘defenders’ are increasingly transforming their need for security into an aggressive attitude toward strangers and foreigners – and towards members of the explorer group.
Meanwhile, explorers are pushing ever more vehemently for social change “according to their own ideas of maximum openness and diversity.”
The study identified “an increasingly irritable and arrogant attitude,” among explorers which “provokes the other side all the more.”
Among all four groups that were identified in Germany, strong support for the right-wing populist AfD was only found in the ‘defender’ category. People belonging to this camp also had a tendency to believe in conspiracy theories and were attracted to the idea of a “strong leader.”
“This identity conflict will not resolve itself,” Back warned. He added that the ongoing changes brought about by globalization had the potential to further radicalize the debate.
“Politicians should not take sides, but rather break down both demands to their core,” he said. “Compromises are needed on legitimate needs such as stability and security on the one hand, and openness and change on the other.”
IN NUMBERS: A breakdown of Germany’s Muslim population