More Wisconsin than You: How the Democratic Party of Wisconsin Constructed a “Wisconsin-Patriotic” Collective Identity for the Recalls in 2011 and Early 2012

Kristian Anker-Møller

Student thesis: Master thesis


This thesis builds on the assumption that in order to mobilize popular support for partisan goals, political actors will construct and use a collective identity defining ingroup and outgroups for supporters to coalesce around. In 2011 and early 2012, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin (DPW) led a coalition of thousands of volunteers that collected upwards of 900,000 signatures to trigger only the third recall election of a governor in American history. Through a Critical Discourse Analysis of the website communication of DPW, the thesis seeks to answer the question: how did DPW construct a collective identity that was appealing enough that upwards of 30,000 people volunteered for the party and upwards of 900.000 signed the petition to recall the governor? The analysis is based on three hypotheses: that the widespread perception of Wisconsin as a leader in socially minded reforms, especially during the Progressive era, would factor in DPW’s identity construct; that the party would have Wisconsin citizens or protestors (in whichever form), be an important part of the constructed identity; and that DPW’s identity construct would emphasize the importance of organized labor. The analysis finds support for the two first hypotheses, but not the third. Moreover, the analysis shows that “Wisconsin values” and “the people of Wisconsin” were key themes for the party. Along with frequent references to popular exponents of Wisconsin culture, most notably the Green Bay Packers football team, I argue that the party advocated in populist terms, and that the identity construct was similar to nationalist or patriotic mobilizations witnessed elsewhere. The thesis asserts that one reason DPW was successful in triggering the governor’s recall election was that the party constructed a “Wisconsin-patriotic” identity that fostered ingroup cohesion and portrayed Republicans as an “un-Wisconsin” outgroup. In this way, the thesis is an exploration of how political parties in American states may mobilize popular support around state-level “patriotism.”

EducationsMA in International Business Communication (Intercultural Marketing), (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2012
Number of pages109