Tribes and Proto-Tribes: The Deep Roots of Political Differences

John R. Hibbing

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


People belong to political tribes that support particular positions on a variety of substantive policy topics; however, when the topics that divide a polity involve identity, in-groups, out-groups, core institutions, homogeneity, diversity, security from outsiders, and immigration, tribalism will be especially ferocious and debilitating. I refer to tribes based on these core matters as proto-tribes because the issues involved connect to our species' evolutionary past. Due to longstanding individual predispositions, people manifest deep policy preferences either 1) to protect their society's insider populations and institutions by being relentlessly vigilant against the intrusions of human outsiders, especially immigrants or 2) to enrich their society by embracing diverse outsiders and by being vigilant against the untoward power of insider institutions. Whenever societal conflict centers on proto-tribes - as was the case in the 1860s and 1960s and is the case today - rather than tribes that emphasize positions on issues such as taxes, regulations, transgender rights, and preferred governmental structure, the political system will be endangered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)395-414
Number of pages20
JournalForum (Germany)
Issue number3
StatePublished - Dec 1 2021


  • partisan group hostilities
  • party polarization
  • threats to group identities
  • tribalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences(all)


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