20 June 2017

An intriguing electoral study

Here are the data for those who still see themselves as the ‘reality-based community’ to consider. And here are some interpretations of the data that I think follow logically.
  1. Populists form a key constituency. We are legion. The major divide is still between liberals and conservatives, but those of us on the œconomic ‘left’ and the social-cultural ‘right’, according to this study anyway, form 28.9% of the electorate (whereas libertarians, who unsurprisingly have a lot more clout among rich donors, make up only 3.8% of the total voter base). We, not the libertarians, are the great, silent group of swing voters. And this time, much to my own chagrin as one of the few ‘other’ voters, we swung hard for Trump.

  2. The donor class is libertarian. Or rather, more accurately, both parties are dragged in a libertarian direction by their wealthiest campaign contributors and lobbyists, who are uniformly more œconomically neoliberal and socially more liberal than the rank-and-file. One need only look to the Koch brothers and Adelson on the Republican side, and to Soros and Bloomberg on the Democratic side, for anecdotal suspicions. These data, however confirm that suspicion. Sanders supporters were right to suspect that big money and corporate campaign contributions do skew our politics.

  3. Sanders would have won, or at least have done far better in terms of popular vote than Clinton did. Interestingly (and perhaps counter-intuitively), there wasn’t that much difference between Sanders and Clinton voters on œconomic issues. But Sanders had greater appeal among the populists – among the culturally-conservative, union-member inland working class – than Clinton did, which is precisely the demographic which caused her to lose ground to Trump in the ‘blue wall’ states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Iowa and Pennsylvania. Clinton lost four out of ten of us populists who had voted for Obama. That speaks to a catastrophically poor campaign strategy and something like malicious neglect.

  4. The disconnect between the Democratic establishment and voter base lies in social issues. Traditional Democratic voters care about addressing inequality. This study shows, in fact, that we care a lot about it. Quite a few ‘red’ states would be more-than-receptive audiences if universal health care, full employment and other bread-and-butter issues were floated. But the more Democratic politicians piss on the third rails of identity politics, the more they lose us. The more bile they spew at œconomically-egalitarian folks who ‘cling to guns or religion’, who think unborn babies should be protected or who have no problem with traditional gender roles, the more they lose. The more they shove crappy trade deals down our throats and the more jobs they ship abroad, the more they lose. The more they encourage gender ideology and the identitarian trend in politics, the more they lose. And they will find that the more they blame Russia for these completely-solvable problems with their campaign strategy, the more they will lose.
A big hat-tip to the Realist Left blog for the link to this study; it is most intriguing!


  1. I don't think I consider left-wing and right-wing populism to be the same phenomena; I think they are fundamentally different. I'm not sure I even buy the idea of left-wing populism as something distinct from the traditional left.

    Left-wing populists are opposed to financial and political elites and don't scapegoat elements among the poorer sections of society like immigrants, welfare claimants or Muslims.

    Right-wing populists are thought to be opposed to establishment elites, but they are never consistent about it. They are happy to receive support from the establishment where they can find it. When they attack elites; it tends to be less about their economic power and more about their cultural values.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Matthew!

    I think you've got hold of an important truth and an important distinction, there. I'm currently reading Thomas Frank's book What's the Matter with Kansas?, which is attempting to make precisely the case you're making here, and also attempting to narrate the transmutation of the left-wing Kansas populism of the 1880's and 1890's into the right-wing populism which has kept Republicans in power there over the past three decades. And these Republicans, in Frank's telling, do nothing but keep entrenched œconomic elites in power.

    At the same time, I think there are some conceptual flaws in the way the issues are framed.

    Populists of the left here in the United States (including the Grange, Knights of Labor, the Farmers' Alliance and the People's Party) have traditionally been opposed to the importation of working-class immigrants for reasons both œconomic and cultural. And they were motivated by an opposition to both œconomic and cultural progress, as defined by the two ruling parties of the time. I think I've even done a blog post connecting the prairie Populists to the Tory migrants who fled westward onto the Great Plains (both Canadian and American) after the Revolution.