History Matters: Effects of Culture-specific Symbols on Political Attitudes and Intergroup Relations



A theory of the historical anchoring and mobilization of political attitudes is proposed, arguing that culture-specific symbols, configured by historical charters, are an important resource in defining nationhood and legitimizing public opinion in a way that makes some political attitudes difficult to change. Five studies in New Zealand and Taiwan using diverse methods converged to show that historical events with “charter status” have an additive effect in explaining variance in political attitudes regarding biculturalism in New Zealand and independence in Taiwan even after controlling for the effects of Social Dominance Orientation, Right-Wing Authoritarianism, relevant social identities, and collective guilt. Field and lab experiments showed that the impact of historical symbols did not depend on the mobilization of social identity (e.g., increasing mean scores and indirect effects), but the historical anchoring of political attitudes in representations was resistant to change. Manipulations of the salience of historical events changed levels of social identification, but did not change mean levels of support for New Zealand biculturalism or Taiwanese independence. Even an intense and immersive pretest/posttest design taking high school students on a national museum tour failed to change attitudes towards biculturalism in New Zealand.