Tag Archives | Political Polarization

Important Matters in Political Context

Byungkyu Lee, Peter Bearman

Sociological Science, January 3, 2017
DOI 10.15195/v4.a1



The 2004 General Social Survey (GSS) reported significant increases in social isolation and significant decreases in ego network size relative to previous periods. These results have been repeatedly challenged. Critics have argued that malfeasant interviewers, coding errors, or training effects lie behind these results. While each critique has some merit, none precisely identify the cause of decreased ego network size. In this article, we show that it matters that the 2004 GSS—unlike other GSS surveys—was fielded during a highly polarized election period. We find that the difference in network size between nonpartisan and partisan voters in the 2004 GSS is larger than in all other GSS surveys. We further discover that core discussion network size decreases precipitously in the period immediately around the first (2004) presidential debate, suggesting that the debate frames “important matters” as political matters. This political priming effect is stronger where geographic polarization is weaker and among those who are politically interested and talk about politics more often. Combined, these findings identify the specific mechanism for the reported decline in network size, indicate that inferences about increased social isolation in America arising from the 2004 GSS are unwarranted, and suggest the emergence of increased political isolation.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Byungkyu Lee: Department of Sociology, Columbia University
Email: bl2474@columbia.edu

Peter Bearman: INCITE, Columbia University
Email: psb17@columbia.edu

Acknowledgements: We benefitted from comments from Delia Baldassarri, Philipp Brandt, Hannah Bruckner, Wooseok Jung, Shamus Khan, Dohoon Lee, Kinga Makovi, James Moody, Chris Muller, Barum Park, Adam Reich, Eun Kyong Shin, Yunkyu Sohn, and Robb Willer. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 9th International Network of Analytical Sociology conference. Support from the Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics (INCITE) at Columbia University is gratefully acknowledged. Please direct all correspondence to Peter Bearman (psb17@columbia.edu). Replication materials to reproduce all Figures and Tables are available at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/bk.

  • Citation: Lee, Byungkyu, and Peter Bearman. 2017. “Important Matters in Political Context.” Sociological Science 4: 1-30.
  • Received: October 23, 2016
  • Accepted: October 26, 2016
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Olav Sorenson
  • DOI: 10.15195/v4.a1

Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987-2012

Michael Hout, Claude S. Fischer

Sociological Science, October 13, 2014
DOI 10.15195/v1.a24


Twenty percent of American adults claimed no religious preference in 2012, compared to 7 percent twenty-five years earlier. Previous research identified a political backlash against the religious right and generational change as major factors in explaining the trend. That research found that religious beliefs had not changed, ruling out secularization as a cause. In this paper we employ new data and more powerful analytical tools to: (1) update the time series, (2) present further evidence of correlations between political backlash, generational succession, and religious identification, (3) show how valuing personal autonomy generally and autonomy in the sphere of sex and drugs specifically explain generational differences, and (4) use GSS panel data to show that the causal direction in the rise of the “Nones” likely runs from political identity as a liberal or conservative to religious identity, reversing a long-standing convention in social science research. Our new analysis joins the threads of earlier explanations into a general account of how political conflict over cultural issues spurred an increase in non-affiliation.
Michael Hout: New York University.  E-mail: mikehout@nyu.edu

Claude S. Fischer: University of California, Berkeley. E-mail: fischer1@berkeley.edu

  • Citation: Hout, Michael, and Claude S. Fischer. 2014. “Explaining Why More Americans Have No Religious Preference: Political Backlash and Generational Succession, 1987–2012.” Sociological Science 1: 423-447.
  • Received: July 8, 2014
  • Accepted: July 16, 2014
  • Editors: Jesper Sørensen, Sarah Soule
  • DOI: 10.15195/v1.a24