The article is intended as a contribution to nationalism theory, one which analyses nationalism as a political ideology. It sets out to theorise how contemporary nationalist parties as agents and strategists of ideology go about mobilising loyalty to the nation. Although strategy and tactics appear to play an ever‐increasing role in party politics, this trend is understood here as a form of renewal rather than a rejection of ideology. I contend that nationalism theory must be updated in the light of multi‐level governance. Theoretical approaches to contemporary nationalism must take into account its strategic flexibility in the face of changing state, sub‐state and supra‐state relationships. The article argues that the multi‐faceted concept of ideology is a useful tool for investigating both nationalist principles and strategy. The work of Michael Freeden (1998; 1999) is used to unpack ideology's heuristic potential. After having established strategic thinking as an inherent and necessary component of nationalist ideology, the final part of the paper focuses on nationalist party strategy. It turns to Albert Hirschman's (1970) typology of exit, voice and loyalty to identify and compare contemporary nationalist party strategies as a response to the changing dynamics of state politics. The analysis applies the relationships Hirschman builds between these concepts to the realm of territorial politics. It thereby complements Freeden's theory of ideology in characterising and classifying nationalist party responses to their evolving political environment.