Contrasting perspectives: Belief in national superiority in relation to countries’ performance
This article examines cross-country differences in the strength of individuals’ belief that their country is better than most others and the dependence of this belief on their country’s performance in various spheres. The research design consists of a series of multilevel ordinal logistic regression models estimated using the data of the most recent thematic wave of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP)—National Identity module. Our research finds that these effects are mostly nonlinear U-shaped: people from both high- and low-performing countries express a strong belief in their country’s superiority, while people from average-performing countries do not. These findings suggest a bifurcated nature of belief in national superiority—an interplay between a grounded estimation of a country’s actual achievements and the social norms and individual motivations that prescribe holding one’s own country in high esteem regardless of its actual performance. These norms are found to be the strongest in underperforming countries, while in average- and high-performing countries, people making these evaluations are under weaker normative pressure and therefore more attuned to country achievements. As a result, the weakest belief in national superiority is found not in underperforming, but in average-performing countries. The latter also have the highest diversity on this belief, probably because different segments of the population compare their country’s performance against different benchmarks.