Social tipping can accelerate behaviour change consistent with policy objectives in diverse domains from social justice to climate change. Hypothetically, however, group identities might undermine tipping in ways that policymakers do not anticipate. To examine this, we implemented an experiment around the 2020 US federal elections. The participants faced consistent incentives to coordinate their choices. Once the participants had established a coordination norm, an intervention created pressure to tip to a new norm. Our control treatment used neutral labels for choices. Our identity treatment used partisan political images. This simple pay-off-irrelevant relabelling generated extreme differences. The control groups developed norms slowly before intervention but transitioned to new norms rapidly after intervention. The identity groups developed norms rapidly before intervention but persisted in a state of costly disagreement after intervention. Tipping was powerful but unreliable. It supported striking cultural changes when choice and identity were unlinked, but even a trivial link destroyed tipping entirely.
© 2022. The Author(s), under exclusive licence to Springer Nature Limited.