Competing democratization theories analyze various factors—such as economic development, history, culture, or elite inclination—to determine the propensity of a particular state to become democratic. Each of these theories has distinct policy implications for external democracy promoters. Ryan Kennedy suggested another factor, based on social identity theory, which posits that diplomacy figures much more prominently in democracy promotion than current practice would suggest.
While conducting field work in Moldova on political economy, Kennedy explained that he was flummoxed by an answer given by policy makers regarding the country's economic policies. "We do it that way because we are European," they would say, rather than offering economics-based arguments. Moldovan officials were making economic and political decisions based on European norms simply because they identified themselves as European. This anecdotal evidence spurred Kennedy to investigate the salience of the connection between identity and democratic behavior.
Social identity theory posits that all people self-categorize within a variety of existing social groups. So-called "in groups" and "out groups" are associated with positive and negative stereotypes respectively, and people will adjust behaviors and choices in order to conform to one group or another. Kennedy's research aimed to determine the prominent identity groups in postcommunist Europe and what, if any, identifiable content those identities implied in terms of liberal democratic values.
He analyzed the data collected by the 2005 World Values Survey in eight countries: Poland, Slovenia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia. Kennedy's graphs demonstrate that at the regional level, there is a positive correlation between a "cosmopolitan" identity and liberal values, and an inverse correlation between a "nationalist" identity and liberal values. At the level of individual countries, however, the effect of this relationship can vary substantially. In Poland, for instance, people with nationalist identities were just as likely as those with cosmopolitan identities to support liberal values.
Several important policy implications can be drawn from Kennedy's research. First, not only are identity associations important in determining democratic behavior and values, but identity associations can be cultivated, which implies a greater need for public diplomacy by the U.S. and its democracy promotion partners. Second, Washington should work with allies to solidify and consolidate the values associated with certain identities, by institutionalizing norms and models as the EU has done through the accession process. In this way, the U.S. government will have yet another tool in its attempts to execute "Smart Power."