Publications

Working Paper
Sean Bock. Working Paper. “Divided Dems, United Reps: Party strategy and within-party variation in immigration attitudes”. Publisher's VersionAbstract

In an era of high partisanship, salient issues have the potential to become flashpoints for both parties. Why, then, do parties not emphasize certain hot-button issues symmetrically? This paper argues that in order to answer this question, social scientists must study attitudes at three levels: (1) the aggregate, (2) between-party, and (3) within-party. Each level provides necessary information for understanding party strategy toward issues and the broader consequences of public opinion for institutional politics. Using several waves of ANES data between 1992 and 2016, I apply this analytic strategy to immigration—one of the most salient issues in U.S. and European politics—to understand why Democrats, unlike Republicans, have not touted immigration as a central issue of the party. The results suggest that Democrats may be reluctant to run on immigration because substantial intra-party disagreement make this strategy too risky; on the other hand, touting immigration poses little risk to a uniform Republican party and provides much upside in their potential to “wedge" a divided Democratic party. I conclude by discussing the consequences of within-party variation for our understanding of party coalitions and electoral strategy.  

2022
Sean Bock and Landon Schnabel. 4/21/2022. “Distressed Democrats and Relaxed Republicans? Partisanship and mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.” PLoS ONE, 17, 4. Publisher's VersionAbstract
The COVID-19 pandemic was a potent stressor, yielding unprecedented levels of mental distress. However, public health responses and personal reactions to the pandemic were politically polarized, with Democrats highlighting and Republicans downplaying its severity. Did Republicans subsequently experience as much mental distress as Democrats during the COVID-19 pandemic? This study examines partisan patterns in mental health outcomes at three time points throughout the pandemic. Results demonstrate a clear partisan distress gap, with Democrats consistently reporting worse mental health than Republicans. Trend data suggest that the 2020 pandemic patterns are a continuation and exacerbation of an existing partisan distress gap. Consideration of race, however, demonstrates a widening partisan distress gap, specific to white Americans. Among white Americans, therefore, Democrats experienced a substantially greater increase in distress in response to the pandemic than Republicans.
2021
Sean Bock. 2021. “Conflicted Religionists: Measuring Political Backlash on Salient Issues.” Socius, 7, Pp. 1-24. Publisher's VersionAbstract

Scholars have pointed to “political backlash” as a key reason for why people leave religion in the United States. This study adds to the growing body of work that emphasizes backlash to localized conditions, rather than national-level phenomena, by demonstrating the importance of conflict on salient issues within churches. Using data from the Baylor Religion Survey, the author exploits a unique set of items to analyze what he calls “conflicted religionists”—those who experience attitudinal conflict with their churches—and measures conflict on two salient issues: same-sex marriage and abortion. The author finds that there is a considerable proportion of conflicted religionists and that the probability of experiencing conflict varies drastically across different groups in the sample. In line with past work, he demonstrates that experiencing conflict is significantly associated with lower church attendance. He concludes with a discussion of the possible pathways available to conflicted religionists.

Sean Bock and Landon Schnabel. 2021. “Visualizing Partisan Identification Switching in the General Social Survey Panel, 2016-2020.” Socius, 7, Pp. 1-3. Publisher's VersionAbstract
This visualization captures shifts in partisan identification in the 2016–2020 General Social Survey Panel. Although most partisans remained stable in their identifications, a significant proportion of respondents either shifted to the opposing party or became independents. These patterns have important implications for our understanding of recent party realignment, trends in partisanship, and the care needed when using party identification as an independent variable.
Bart Bonikowski, Yuval Feinstein, and Sean Bock. 2021. “The Partisan Sorting of ‘America’: How Nationalist Cleavages Shaped the 2016 US Presidential Election.” American Journal of Sociology, 127, 2. Publisher's VersionAbstract

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.

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2018
Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock. 2018. “The Continuing Persistence of Intense Religion in the United States.” Sociological Science, 5, Pp. 711–721. Publisher's VersionAbstract
In their comment on our article about the persistence of intense religion in the United States, David Voas and Mark Chaves (2018) claimed that “the intensely religious segment of the American population is shrinking.” In this response, we show that intense religion has persisted from the 1970s to the present, with a temporary uptick during the exceptional Reagan years. Voas and Chaves concluded otherwise because their analytical strategy was not sufficiently sensitive to nonlinear patterns. In addition to demonstrating the continuing persistence of intense religion, we also discuss criteria for measuring intense religion over time and the importance of avoiding unfounded assumptions in age–period–cohort analysis. We conclude that aspects of the classic secularization thesis championed by Voas, Chaves, and others are not supported by the data, and we suggest that scholars should look for better ways of thinking about religious change.
2017
Landon Schnabel and Sean Bock. 2017. “The Persistent and Exceptional Intensity of American Religion.” Sociological Science, 4, Pp. 686–700. Publisher's VersionAbstract
Recent research argues that the United States is secularizing, that this religious change is consistent with the secularization thesis, and that American religion is not exceptional. But we show that rather than religion fading into irrelevance as the secularization thesis would suggest, intense religion—strong affiliation, very frequent practice, literalism, and evangelicalism—is persistent and, in fact, only moderate religion is on the decline in the United States. We also show that in comparable countries, intense religion is on the decline or already at very low levels. Therefore, the intensity of American religion is actually becoming more exceptional over time. We conclude that intense religion in the United States is persistent and exceptional in ways that do not fit the secularization thesis.