Using survey data from a variety of sources, I examine how multiple conceptions of American nationhood shaped respondents’ voting preferences in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and how the election outcome built on long-term changes in the distribution of nationalist beliefs in the U.S. population. The results suggest that nationalist beliefs constituted important cultural cleavages that were effectively mobilized by candidates from both parties. In particular, exclusionary varieties of nationalism were associated with Trump support in the Republican primary and the general election, while disengagement from the nation was predictive of Sanders support in the Democratic primary. Furthermore, over the past twenty years, nationalism has become sorted by party: Republicans have become predominantly ethno-nationalist, while Democrats have increasingly embraced a creedal conception of nationhood. The resulting mutual reinforcement of nationalist cleavages with other sources of distinction is likely to shape future elections and threaten the stability of U.S. democracy.
Bart Bonikowski is Associate Professor of Sociology at Harvard University, Resident Faculty at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, a Faculty Affiliate of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs (where he co-directs the Research Cluster on Global Populism / Challenges to Democracy), and a 2018-19 Lenore Annenberg and Wallis Annenberg Fellow in Communication at Stanford University's Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences. Relying on survey methods, computational text analysis, and experimental research, his work applies insights from cultural sociology to the study of politics in the United States and Europe, with a particular focus on nationalism, populism, and the rise of the radical right. His research has appeared in the American Sociological Review, Annual Review of Sociology, Social Forces, British Journal of Sociology, European Journal of Political Research, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Brown Journal of World Affairs, and a number of other peer-reviewed journals and edited volumes.