Representative democracies treat each citizen’s vote as equal to another. The ballot box is blind to personal differences such as educational attainment, social status, race, religion or income level. In contrast, the politics of identity focuses on personal characteristics. Gender, race, ethnicity, income and other characteristics of a voter may all be identifiers.
The division between the politics of representation at the ballot box and the politics of identity is often blurred in practice. Political parties competing at the ballot box may appeal to particular income, or religious groups, or to particular ethnicities. Nevertheless, there remains an important difference in principle between collective association based on each person counting the same and collective association reflecting character.
In recent times there appears to be increasing assertion of the politics of identity reflecting frustration with the politics of representation. The growing tension between the politics of representation and the politics of identity contributes to a sense that democratic societies are becoming more polarised and fragmented. This blog looks at the sources of the tension.