Explaining Membership in the British National Party: A Multilevel Analysis of Contact and Threat

(with Steven Knauss)

European Sociological Review, vol. 28, no. 5, 2012, pp. 633-46 (DOI:10.1093/esr/jcr031)

BNP cartogramSupport for the British National Party (BNP) has grown exponentially in the last decade. Using a leaked membership list, we locate over 12,000 members and match them with Census data on more than 200,000 neighbourhoods in Britain. Two established theories of ethnic hostility—contact and threat—provide opposing predictions about the effect of the proportion of minorities. These predictions are tested with a multilevel analysis of variation in the probability of white British adults belonging to the BNP. The probability is lower in neighbourhoods with a substantial proportion of nonwhites. The probability is higher, by contrast, in cities with a larger proportion of nonwhites, but only where they are also highly segregated. Within the nonwhite category, we find that South Asians matter rather than blacks; results for Muslims are similar. These findings show how contact and threat can be disentangled by considering different spatial scales, and also demonstrate the importance of segregation.


Cartogram showing Britain's 408 local authority districts, scaled according to the number of white British adults. London, Wales, and Scotland are outlined in black. Each authority is shaded to show the proportion of white British adults belonging to the BNP; those with over .07% are named.

Michael Biggs, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford