My general research interests are in social psychology; political psychology; public opinion; intergroup conflict; attitudes and the life cycle. My current research falls into five specific areas:
- Racism in politics. A number of projects continue my interest in the origins and effects of a "new," post-civil-rights era, racism in politics, which is generally described as "symbolic racism," "racial resentment," or "modern racism." It is the most common and most politically powerful form of racism in American politics today. We also have pursued the idea of "black exceptionalism," that white Americans treat Latinos and Asian Americans more like the European immigrants of a century ago than like African Americans, who continue to face a relatively impermeable color line.
- Southern realignment to the Republican Party. A related line of research investigates the long-term continuities of racial politics in the South. In particular it examines the role of white racism, based in a long history of racial antagonism in the South, and today embedded in Christian fundamentalism, as a force that has successfully moved many white Southerners to the Republican party (with Nicholas Valentino).
- Political multiculturalism. The expanded ethnic and racial diversity in the United States and other western nations has brought with it many political changes that go beyond the traditional black-white binary. This raises a number of important psychological questions, concerning the determinants of strong ethnic identity, the role of exposure to American identity politics (as opposed to assimilationist tendencies) in determining the long-term integration of immigrant minorities, the complex links between American and ethnic identity among ethnic minorities, and the determinants of white Americans' attitudes toward immigration, liberal language policies, affirmative action, and other ethnic entitlements.
- Life cycle effects on attitudes. I continue to maintain a long-term interest in the effects of early political socialization, especially on politically important attitudes such as partisanship, ideology, racism, and ethnic identity. This raises fundamental questions about the relative power of realistic adulthood forces (such as self-interest) as opposed to the residues of pre-adulthood, or early-adult, attitudes in determining attitudes toward political issues in later adulthood.
- The origins of partisanship. In a nation that is highly polarized by political party, a key question concerns the extent to which, and how, immigrant groups will become incorporated into the American party system. We are currently developing a dual-process theory of the acquisition of partisanship, and applying it to Latino immigrants. This suggests that even new immigrants quickly acquire preferences between the parties, even if they do not self-identity as attached to either party, or vote, for years to come. Their latent partisanship, however, provides a basis for partisan self-identification after naturalization.
DAVID O. SEARS is Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Political Science, former Dean of Social Sciences, and former Director of the Institute for Social Science Research, all at the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Sears received his B.A. in History from Stanford University, his Ph.D. in Personality and Social Psychology from Yale University in 1962, and since then has taught at UCLA. He has held visiting faculty positions at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, has been a Fellow at the Brookings Institution and twice at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and has been a Guggenheim Fellow. In 1991, he was elected Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; in 1992, President of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics; and in 1994, President of the International Society of Political Psychology. His books include Public Opinion (1964, with Robert E. Lane), The Politics of Violence: The New Urban Blacks and the Watts Riot (1973, with John B. McConahay), Tax Revolt: Something for Nothing in California (1982, with Jack Citrin), Political Cognition (1986, edited with Richard R. Lau), Racialized Politics: The Debate about Racism in America (2000, edited with Jim Sidanius and Lawrence Bobo), Social Psychology (12 editions from 1970 to 2006, with Shelley E. Taylor and L. Anne Peplau), Obama's Race: The 2008 Election and the Dream of a Post-Racial America (2010, with Michael Tesler), the Oxford Handbook of Political Psychology, (2 editions from 2003 to 2013, edited with Leonie Huddy and Jack Levy), and American Identity and the Politics of Multiculturalism (2014, with Jack Citrin). He has published articles and book chapters on a wide variety of topics, including attitude change, public opinion, mass communications, ghetto riots, political socialization, voting behavior, and race and politics.
Sears Political Psychology Lab Group, Spring 2015