The Making of a Populist
A seismic shift in attitudes and beliefs has occurred across western nations and it’s called populism.
“Global populism stems from the general population’s increasing distrust in institutions.
Studies show adaptability and education are the deciding factors on attitudes towards globalization and technological advancement.
More often than not, political polarization arises out of widening economic disparity. Today, this widening gap of inequality might be more profound than any time in the 20th and 21st century.
At the heart of the populism movement are the fears of globalism, centralized government and the further increase of market share, even power, of multi-national corporations. This movement is often described politically as far-right. A few of the widely-reported global events do support this:
- 2016 U.S. election of Donald J. Trump
- 2016 Brexit (U.K. withdrawal from E.U.)
- The popularity of 2017 French presidential candidate “Marine” Le Pen
- Current Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Mihály Orbán’s “nativist’s policies”
- Ukraine’s election of ‘populist’ Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk
The Baker Institute hosts a panel examining the resurgence of populism and nationalism in Western democracies, and whether it is the manifestation of a post-democratic turn in liberal societies.
These leaders and populist parties embrace strong nationalism, anti-globalization, anti-immigration policies and restricting international investments, even trade.
According to the Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, world trade growth is “exceptionally weak.” Read the organizations’ report on Global Trade, Policies and Populism.
I’d argue that the western world voters, who are responsible for the election of such populist candidates, aren’t necessarily aligned with “far-right” beliefs. It’s indisputable that globalization and rapidly evolving technology’s impact on jobs are both major fears feeding the populist movement, which are entirely reasonable concerns.
With strongly-correlated data from both the Brexit vote and election of Trump with demographic information, we can determine the overly common qualities of the populist voter. From most correlated to less correlated:
1. Education is the strongest correlation. Brexit and Trump supporters are common with those without a Bachelor’s degree.
The Trump election had, by far, the widest gap in college education since 1980, according to Pew Research.
Brexit voters had, by far, the widest gap in college education.
2. Population density showed a very strong correlation, with pro Trump or Brexit voters living in more rural areas.
Denser cities voted heavily for Clinton and for staying in the E.U. London and the surrounding metropolis voted overwhelming to stay in the E.U. With a very strong correlation, rural citizens voted for Trump, far exceeding rural support in recent elections.
Over emphasized, less of a correlation:
1. Annual income, surprisingly, did not provide an overly-strong correlation.
While income was a predictor of Brexit support, it wasn’t as strong of a correlator as education or population density. Trump seemed to grab lower income individuals, as well as, higher income individuals.
2. The emphasized young-vs-older clash only slightly correlated with how votes went in the Brexit and U.S. election.
Obama had a wider margin of young voter support in both elections. With Brexit, education and marital status dwarfed age for deciding vote factors.
Considering the above demographic findings, the strongest indications of a populist voter was education, followed by population density and annual income.
People vote on their fears. The unprecedented rate of societal and technological change has made everyone question their place in the workforce, even society. The fear of the future is what drove Brexit and Trump votes last year.
Less stable, inflexible workers are those in traditional, lower-skilled jobs, that are often less educated than global peers and maintain a relatively low income nationally. Those conditions make it much more difficult to transition to a modern skill set, job or industry.
People who resist the change that technology and society have presented want to preserve current jobs and traditional cultures that enable employment and the continuity of a current lifestyle.
In addition to the threats of the modern climate on a traditional lifestyle, there are two major concerns for all populations: 1) inequality and 2) transparency. These particular issues aren’t restricted to democratic western nationals but are fundamentally present in all free-market, democratic modern nations.