Winner of the New Statesman SPERI Prize in Political Economy 2016

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Brexit and Trump supporters

This study that looked at Trump supporters has got quite a bit of publicity. Some have been surprised that “his supporters are less educated and more likely to work in blue collar occupations, but they earn relative high household incomes, and living in areas more exposed to trade or immigration does not increase Trump support.” They also tend to be a little older. Having looked at who voted for Brexit, I was not surprised.

The two clear explanatory variables for those who voted that the UK should leave the EU were education and age. Much has also been made of the fact that, other things equal, those from areas of the country that suffered from deindustrialisation over the last 30 years tended to vote Leave, but there was no correlation with levels or rates of change of income. Nor is there any clear correlation between Brexit support and levels of immigration, again matching this study’s findings for Trump support.

One of the most striking findings from the post-Brexit Ashcroft poll was the answer to the following question: “Overall, life in Britain today is better/worse than it was 30 years ago’. While Remain voters overwhelming chose better, a clear majority of Leave voters chose worse. If you take that question to be only about individual living standards, then there is no way half the population have had declining living standards over the last 30 years. But why should a question about ‘life in Britain today’ be interpreted in narrow economic terms?

In the case of Brexit we had a coalition between two groups who had reason to feel aggrieved at trends over the last 30 years: social conservatives within an increasingly liberal society and those living in areas that had not shared in metropolitan economic success. You could say that both groups, in different ways, had been left behind and therefore become alienated by the dominant sectors of society. (See this study by Jennings and Stoker, for example.)

The Trump study finds “more subtle measures at the commuting zone level provide evidence that social well-being, measured by longevity and intergenerational mobility, is significantly lower among in the communities of Trump supporters. The causal mechanisms linking health and intergenerational well-being to political views are not well-understood in the social science literature. It may be the case that material circumstances caused by economic shocks manifest themselves in depression, disappointment, and ill-health, and those are the true underlying causes. Or, it may be that material well-being and health are undermined by a cultural or psychological failure to adjust and adapt to a changing world.” [typos corrected]

Times of rapid economic and social change can leave large parts of society left behind, particularly if they are not equipped with the skills required to adapt. When incomes then stop growing, these groups long for things to be how they used to be (to 'make America great again'). The most obvious manifestation of change is the prospect (not actuality) of living with different people and cultures: hence 'taking back control' over immigration in the UK and building a wall in the US. What the Brexit vote showed is that when this fear of the new is combined with a protest over relative economic deprivation it can become a dangerous political force. For the US we can just hope that to be forewarned is to be forearmed.



11 comments:

  1. I have not found any post-referendum poll results which have separated the over-65s into age categories as happened in polls before the vote and which seemed to show that the over-75s were going to vote differently (pro-Remain) to those aged 65-74 (pro-Leave).

    If this information is available it would help to find the age at which this culture of anti-EU declinism begins, and I suspect the memory of Britain as the 'sick man of Europe' had never come to the attention of those under 75.

    Or perhaps that when Europe through the Euro began to economically weaken those who had felt the shame of being Europe's sick man they saw their time to revolt?




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  2. I'm happy we're leaving the EU, the only people who seem to cry about it are those who will struggle to undercut our wages by people who don't have any loyalty to us & just want to suck us dry economically. Brexit was a fantastic example of what happens when you insult people as racist/xenophobic for having the nerve to want to have a say on who lives next door to you! The treasonous scum in our country wanted to give our society away to the Forth Reich & you can forget it!

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    1. Brexit supporter denies being racist, says racist thing. Surprise!

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  3. Rather than look for actual economic losses amongst this group - why not just accept the simpler hypothesis that Brexit/Trump supporters are Tabloid readers/Fox Watchers.

    The majority have simply bought into a silly reactionary narrative that the country is going to the dogs - not because of their circumstances or experiences but because that is what they are told every day.

    I'm sorry if that sounds condescending or patronising - I just suspect thats the truth.

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    1. For most U.S. workers, real wages — that is, after inflation is taken into account — have been flat or even falling for decades. U.S. workers are having every right to be angry to demand change !!!

      Between 2008 and 2015 real wages of the median worker have fallen by around 8-10 per cent in UK !!!

      Persons which do not think that our population, our workers, our pensioners are angry do not understand our western society or even macro economy.

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  4. The idea that we are living in an increasingly "liberal" society seems to me an interesting one. Most mild vices are currently looked down upon with more puritanical zeal than at any point in the past 100 years. Young people are socialising less, drinking less, playing less sport, and having less sex than at any point in history. Misogyny, racial intolerance and the open disparagement of the working class appears to have risen significantly in the past decade. How is this an increasingly liberal and tolerant society?

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  5. "The two clear explanatory variables for those who voted that the UK should leave the EU were education and age."

    I'd be careful about the analysis for education. The old have far few qualifications than the young for obvious reasons. I'd give credence to an analysis that showed the voting patterns of more/less educated people within an age cohort, but not one using all-age data.

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  6. Interesting data and thoughts. Though it's obvious enough, it's another indicator of the inflated role our media plays in shaping political views. It might also suggest that ideational factors trump materialistic considerations, which, given the dire warnings of most economists, think tanks etc. concerning Brexit and yet a subsequent exit, is unsurprising.

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  7. Looking through the comments, & being a retired graduate who never wanted to join the EU in the 1st place followed by 40 years of being lied to about it, I wonder why people feel so virtuous about liking it?

    I think it's a technocratic organisation which favours large corporates and squashes smaller firms, and has no time for local issues. But then, so also is our government.

    Similarly, I feel people are increasingly intolerant of other people's views in daily conversation. Folk don't seem to understand human nature anymore; and are far too sensitive of indelicate speech. It's like a minefield with some folk. Upside down eg. it's ok to break the law - but not ok to use too much force in repelling folk breaking into your home.

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  8. Check out my user name and think about it , I'm the son of a miner that to this day still lives in the same mining village , I passed my eleven plus and went to grammar school where they taught you to use the tools of scepticism , logic and above all critical thinking skills , now I have three children at school that are being taught advocacy and consensus in all subjects . you academics that try to understand us don't get it , because you live in a condescending and patronising bubble , and talk about us rather than to us , your either to busy arguing that its all the fault of the fascist right wing or the Marxist left wing that you can not look up and see the body of the bird that controls both wings and is shitting all over you , I am proud to say I voted Brexit and made a point of wearing my Trump shirt on the big day , so now is some food for thought , the last time we had a equivalent to the EU imposed on us , was the Emperor Constantine who became Emperor in 304 AD and imposed a new religion upon us called the Holy Roman Church to control our minds , and passed edics that destroyed borders and sovereignty and created a slave or serf based system that lasted for over a thousand years , why are the COP21 meetings in Paris any different from the councils of Nicea ? wy do they ask you if you BELIEVE in global warming ( as if its a religion rather than a scientific argument ) whats the difference between modern day so called free trade deals that destroy borders and sovereignty , compared to when Constantine created the feudal system , don't you think its about time you escaped from your bubble and recognised that you have been so busy looking at the over wing , that you have been distracted from looking up at the body that controls both sides . all the best but please rediscover the critical thinking skills that we are all born with

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  9. The idea that we are living in an increasingly "liberal" society seems to me an interesting one. Most mild vices are currently looked down upon with more puritanical zeal than at any point in the past 100 years. Young people are socialising less, drinking less, playing less sport, and having less sex than at any point in history. Misogyny, racial intolerance and the open disparagement of the working class appears to have risen significantly in the past decade. How is this an increasingly liberal and tolerant society?

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