Speaker Series: “The Polarization of Nationalist Cleavages and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election” - Bart Bonikowski


Thursday October 15, 2020
2:30 pm - 4:00 pm


Event Category

Bart BonikowskiAbout the Speaker:

Bart Bonikowski is an Associate Professor of Sociology at New York University. 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 radical-right parties. Building on past publications in scholarly journals, he is currently completing a book manuscript titled Radicalized: How the Right has Mobilized Nationalism and Undermined Liberal Democracy, which is under advance contract with Princeton University Press. Bonikowski received his B.A. from Queen’s University, M.A. from Duke University, and Ph.D. from Princeton University. Prior to joining NYU in the fall of 2020, he was on the faculty at Harvard University, in the Department of Sociology and the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies.

About the Lecture:

Political scientists have acknowledged the importance of 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 only sporadically engaged in 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 come to define America in more exclusionary and critical terms and Democrats have increasingly endorsed inclusive and positive conceptions of nationhood. These trends point 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 partisan divisions and undermine the stability of liberal democratic institutions.