Political scientists have acknowledged the importance of ethno-nationalism as a constitutive element of radical-right politics, but have typically empirically reduced the phenomenon to its downstream attitudinal correlates. Sociologists, on the other hand, have extensively studied nationalism, but have rarely weighed in on debates about institutional politics. In this study, we bring these literatures together by considering how nationalist beliefs 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 nationalism in the U.S. population. The results suggest that competing understandings of American nationhood were effectively mobilized by candidates from the two parties, both in the 2016 primaries and the general election. Furthermore, over the past twenty years, nationalism has become sorted by party, as Republican identifiers have become predominantly ethno-nationalist and Democrats have increasingly endorsed creedal and disengaged conceptions of nationhood. This points to the rising demand for radical candidates among Republicans and suggests a potentially bleak future for U.S. politics, as nationalism becomes yet another among multiple overlapping social and cultural cleavages that serve to reinforce deep partisan divisions and undermine the stability of liberal democratic institutions.
This study develops a novel analytical approach for studying popular conceptions of the nationstate that accounts for both within- and between-country heterogeneity and avoids a priori assumptions about the national boundedness of culture. I identify widely shared attitudinal patterns among a pooled sample of over 27,000 respondents from thirty countries and only subsequently examine those respondents’ national affiliations. Having established the robustness of the resulting four-fold typology of nationalist beliefs using multiple strategies, including out-of-sample replication, I relate these cultural schemas to the respondents’ political beliefs. The results reveal four characteristics of nationalism in settled times: 1) meanings attributed to the nation are far more heterogeneous than is suggested by existing theories; 2) the same four cultural schemas of the nation are found in all countries, though their relative prevalence varies; 3) the content—but not the distribution—of the schemas is stable over time; and 4) schemas of the nation are highly predictive of other political attitudes. The paper makes a substantive contribution to research on political culture and offers a general analytical approach for the comparative study of collective identification.
While scholars have long studied the relationship between nationalist beliefs and anti-immigrant attitudes, such work has proceeded largely independently from research on collective memory, which explores how nationalist narratives are created, maintained, and contested. In this paper, we bring these literatures together by asking how, at the individual level, receptivity to salient narratives about the nation’s past is associated with dispositions toward immigrants and immigration policy. Specifically, we focus on two narratives common in a number of contemporary democracies that frame the nation as having been perpetually victimised over its history (i.e. the victimhood narrative) and as having been chosen to carry out a special mission in the world (i.e. the exceptionalism narrative). Using original data from Israel, we demonstrate that stronger agreement with these narratives, and particularly with exceptionalism, is associated with greater propensity to hold anti-immigrant views. Our analyses reveal that this relationship is mediated by ethnic conceptions of the nation’s symbolic boundaries and, to a lesser degree, by perceived symbolic and material threats to the nation-state. Building on recent comparative work, we argue that in nations with a history of precarious sovereignty, victimhood and exceptionalism narratives can provide a fertile basis for the exclusionary appeals of radical-right political actors.
Despite the centrality of national identity in the exclusionary discourse of the European radical right, scholars have not investigated how popular definitions of nationhood are connected to dispositions toward Muslims. Moreover, survey-based studies tend to conflate anti-Muslim attitudes with general anti-immigrant sentiments. This article contributes to research on nationalism and out-group attitudes by demonstrating that varieties of national self-understanding are predictive of anti-Muslim attitudes, above and beyond dispositions toward immigrants. Using latent class analysis and multilevel models of survey data from 41 European countries, we demonstrate that conceptions of nationhood are heterogeneous within countries and that their relationship with anti-Muslim attitudes is contextually variable. Consistent with expectations, anti-Muslim attitudes are associated with “thicker” conceptions of nationhood in most countries. In Northwestern Europe, however, it is civic nationalism that is linked to greater antipathy toward Muslims. We suggest that in this region, elective criteria of belonging have become fused with exclusionary notions of national culture that portray Muslims as incompatible with European liberal values, effectively legitimating anti-Muslim sentiments in mainstream political culture. This may serve to legitimate anti-Muslim sentiments not only on the radical right, but also among mainstream segments of the Northwestern European public, with important implications for social exclusion and political behavior.
Scholarly and journalistic accounts of the recent successes of radical-right politics in Europe and the United States, including the Brexit referendum and the Trump campaign, tend to conflate three phenomena: populism, ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism. While all three are important elements of the radical right, they are neither coterminous nor limited to the right. The resulting lack of analytical clarity has hindered accounts of the causes and consequences of ethno-nationalist populism. To address this problem, I bring together existing research on nationalism, populism and authoritarianism in contemporary democracies to precisely define these concepts and examine temporal patterns in their supply and demand, that is, politicians’ discursive strategies and the corresponding public attitudes. Based on the available evidence, I conclude that both the supply and demand sides of radical politics have been relatively stable over time, which suggests that in order to understand public support for radical politics, scholars should instead focus on the increased resonance between pre-existing attitudes and discursive frames. Drawing on recent research in cultural sociology, I argue that resonance is not only a function of the congruence between a frame and the beliefs of its audience, but also of shifting context. In the case of radical-right politics, a variety of social changes have engendered a sense of collective status threat among national ethnocultural majorities. Political and media discourse has channelled such threats into resentments toward elites, immigrants, and ethnic, racial and religious minorities, thereby activating previously latent attitudes and lending legitimacy to radical political campaigns that promise to return power and status to their aggrieved supporters. Not only does this form of politics threaten democratic institutions and inter-group relations, but it also has the potential to alter the contours of mainstream public discourse, thereby creating the conditions of possibility for future successes of populist, nationalist, and authoritarian politics.
Due to a preoccupation with periods of large-scale social change, nationalism research had long neglected everyday nationhood in contemporary democracies. Recent scholarship, however, has begun to shift the focus of this scholarly field toward the study of nationalism not only as a political project but also as a cognitive, affective, and discursive category deployed in daily practice. Integrating insights from work on banal and everyday nationalism, collective rituals, national identity, and commemorative struggles with survey-based findings from political psychology, I demonstrate that meanings attached to the nation vary within and across populations as well as over time, with important implications for microinteraction and for political beliefs and behavior, including support for exclusionary policies and authoritarian politics. I conclude by suggesting how new developments in methods of data collection and analysis can inform future research on this topic.
Despite the relevance of nationalism for politics and intergroup relations, sociologists have devoted surprisingly little attention to the phenomenon in the United States, and historians and political psychologists who do study the U.S. have limited their focus to specific forms of nationalist sentiment: ethnocultural or civic nationalism, patriotism, or national pride. This article innovates, first, by examining an unusually broad set of measures (from the 2004 GSS) tapping national identification, ethnocultural and civic criteria for national membership, domain-specific national pride, and invidious comparisons to other nations, thus providing a fuller depiction of Americans’ national self-understanding. Second, we use latent class analysis to explore heterogeneity, partitioning the sample into classes characterized by similar patterns of attitudes. Conventional distinctions between ethnocultural and civic nationalism describe just about half of the U.S. population and do not account for the unexpectedly low levels of national pride found among respondents who hold restrictive definitions of American nationhood. A subset of primarily younger and well-educated Americans lacks any strong form of patriotic sentiment; a larger class, primarily older and less well educated, embraces every form of nationalist sentiment. Controlling for sociodemographic characteristics and partisan identification, these classes vary significantly in attitudes toward ethnic minorities, immigration, and national sovereignty. Finally, using comparable data from 1996 and 2012, we find structural continuity and distributional change in national sentiments over a period marked by terrorist attacks, war, economic crisis, and political contention.
This paper examines populist claims-making in U.S. electoral discourse. We define populism as a rhetorical strategy that juxtaposes the virtuous populace with a corrupt elite and views the former as the sole legitimate source of political power. In contrast to past literature, we argue that populism is not a stable ideological attribute of political actors but rather a gradational quality of political claims. This conceptualization allows us to systematically measure how the use of populism is affected by contextual factors. Our empirical case consists of 2,482 speeches given by American presidential candidates during general elections between 1952 and 1996. We offer an analytical strategy that uses automated text analysis to measure populism at the level of individual speech acts. Populism is shown to be a common feature of presidential politics among both Democrats and Republicans. Its prevalence, however, varies with candidates’ relative positions in the political field. We show that the likelihood of a candidate’s reliance on populist claims is directly proportional to his distance from the center of power (in this case, the presidency); in other words, populism is a strategic tool of political challengers and particularly those who have legitimate claims to outsider status. By examining the temporal fluctuation in populist rhetoric, its shifting use on the political left and right, its variation across geographic regions and field positions, and the changing content of populist categories, our paper contributes to the literature on the relational nature of political discourse.
This essay provides an analytical review of David Swartz’s book on Bourdieu's political sociology. I argue that among its many virtues, the book presents Bourdieu’s ideas in an accessible and synthetic manner, adding clarity what is a complex and often contradictory theoretical system. In addition to assessing the book’s contributions, I draw inspiration from Swartz’s work to point out some of the limitations of the Bourdieusian perspective and identify promising avenues for the further elaboration of this approach through empirical research.
Bonikowski, Bart, and Nina Gheihman. 2014. “Nation-State as Symbolic Construct.” The International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioral Sciences, edited by James D. Wright, 2nd ed. Oxford, UK: Elsevier. Abstract
Research on nationalism been especially preoccupied with those aspects of the phenomenon that are most destabilizing for existing institutions, thereby assuming that in the absence of violent upheavals, nationalism in established democracies is simply a fait accompli rather than a source of continued social and political change. In contrast, more recent studies have turned their attention to everyday forms of nationalism, arguing that the primacy of the nation-state as a unit of political governance and collective identification is continually reinforced—and sometimes subtly altered—through routine cognitive and affective orientations that are themselves products of institutional and ritual practices. This chapter provides an analytical overview of this literature, identifying its contributions, limitations, and potential for achieving a more complete understanding of nationalism in contemporary societies.
Contemporary nationalism is typically framed as an oppositional ideology that legitimates the struggles of ethnic minorities for political sovereignty or, alternatively, justifies the xenophobic claims of nativist fringe groups. The emphasis on nationalism’s incendiary varieties, however, has led to the neglect of everyday popular nationalism—the routine and tacit acceptance of the nation-state as a primary object of identification and loyalty, as well as a fundamental unit of political organization. In an effort to address this gap in research, I examine the cross-national variation in popular conceptions of the nation-state using pooled-sample latent class analysis, a method that allows me to account for both within- and between-country heterogeneity and avoid reductive a priori assumptions about the national boundedness of culture. Having demonstrated that the resulting fourfold typology of popular nationalism is predictive of a wide range of political beliefs and is remarkably consistent across countries and over time, I show how the relative prevalence of the four types of nationalism shifts within countries in response to economic and political events that increase the salience of the nation-state. This study breaks new ground in the study of nationalism and offers a novel approach to the use of survey data in comparative research on political culture.
Working Paper, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA.
The study examines the relationship between the structure of cross-national relations and the dyadic cultural similarity of 19 countries over 10 years, based on the assumption that patterns of interaction between state, private sector, and civil society actors influence national cultures. The relations analyzed include trade, military alliances, IGO memberships, phone calls, and military conflicts. The findings demonstrate that cross-national interactions, particularly trade and IGO memberships, are strong predictors of cultural similarity that complement the modernizing effects of economic development. In addition to explaining variation in cultural similarity between country dyads, the study challenges primordialist approaches to comparative cultural research that rely on civilizational country classifications. Instead, systematic measures of religious tradition, geographic region, linguistic heritage, and imperial history are used to identify factors that shape countries’ dyadic cultural similarities. Of these, only membership in former empires is a significant predictor of cultural similarity.