“Why don’t working class voters vote their economic interests?” has been a perennial question for generations of academics. (One might also ask why full professors don’t vote their interests–for tax-cutting conservatives.) Part of the problem in addressing the question is knowing whether the premise is correct. When unemployed coal miners or WalMart greeters vote Republican, are they really voting against their economic interests? For the most part, they would deny that they are.

An article appearing last summer in the Journal of Politics adds some hard numbers to that discussion. Timothy Hicks, Alan M. Jacobs, and J. Scott Matthews report findings suggesting that in many countries, particularly in the United States, not only do working-class voters seem to not vote for self-declared working-class parties in the numbers observers would expect, they actually tend to vote for incumbents who have overseen greater gains for wealthy than for average families.

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More (on) Polarization

A recent New Yorker cartoon: A TV anchorman with two figures standing behind him, each in front of a wall map: “That was Brad with the Democratic weather. Now here’s Tammy with the Republican weather.”

At Trump Rally (source)

At Trump Rally (source)

It seems that political disputes have gotten almost that bad (and, of course, we are reminded of the arguments over climate change). I recently claimed that the key reason that Donald Trump, a woefully unfit candidate, received 46 percent of the popular vote (while in 1964 Barry Goldwater, an ideological outlier but a personally respected senator, received only 38.5% of the vote) is the polarization of recent decades. About nine of ten Republicans ended up voting for their party, whatever they felt about its standard-bearer.

Recent studies on polarization underline the surging emotional hostility between party partisans, those who care about politics. (Let us remember the 40 to 45 percent of eligible Americans who do not care enough to vote even in presidential elections are not engaged in this divisiveness.) And while it would seem that Republicans and Democrats live in alternative worlds with “alternative facts,” if not alternative weather, increasingly their differences are less about reality than about identity and the values and the emotions tied to those identities.

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According a Los Angeles Times story on the new Administration’s immigration and refugee orders, “Trump’s top advisors on immigration, including chief strategist Steve Bannon and senior advisor Stephen Miller, see themselves as launching a radical experiment … to block a generation of people who, in their view, won’t assimilate into American society.”

(Chicago Tribune)

(Chicago Tribune)

Here we are, once again, with vigorous efforts to block or to drive out “unassimilable” immigrants. (Ironically, American society is remarkably assimilating and today’s newcomers are no more likely to maintain their cultural differences than did the supposed unassimilables who came before them.) As shocking as these moves may seem to some, history shows that Americans have long resisted immigrants and refugees, often fiercely. The news is that Americans are, the current administration notwithstanding, becoming more rather than less welcoming.

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Explaining Trump

Explaining how such an unfit candidate and such a bizarre candidacy succeeded has become a critical concern for journalists and scholars. Through sites like Monkey Cage, Vox, and 538, as well as academic papers, we can watch political scientists in real time try to answer the question, “What the Hell Happened?” (There are already at least two catalogs of answers, here and here, and a couple of college-level Trump syllabi.) Although a substantial answer will not emerge for years, this post is my own morning-after answer to the “WTHH?” question.

I make three arguments: First, Trump’s electoral college victory was a fluke, a small accident with vast implications, but from a social science perspective not very interesting. Second, the deeper task is to understand who were the distinctive supporters for Trump, in particular to sort out whether their support was rooted mostly in economic or in cultural grievances; the evidence suggests cultural. Third, party polarization converted Trump’s small and unusual personal base of support into 46 percent of the popular vote.

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***** Hiatus *****

This blog is going on hiatus.

Have a great holiday season, more like this:

Rockwell Christmas

than like this:

Puritan Christmas


In 1971, the great Carole King sang: “So far away/ Doesn’t anyone stay in one place anymore?” Thirty years later, the editors of The New York Times explained that families in the United States are changing because of “the ever-growing mobility of Americans.” And in 2010, a psychologist argued that “an increased rate of residential mobility played a role in the historical shift” toward individualism. It’s a common U.S. lament that human bonds are fraying because people are moving around more and more. Americans fear the fracturing of communities that constant moving seems to bring.moving-aeon

Yet when King sang, Americans had been moving around less and less for generations. That decline was even more obvious when the Times editorial appeared in 2001, and it has continued to decline through the 2010s. The increasingly mobile U.S. is a myth that refuses to move on. . . . . . . . This essay (which expands on a 2010 post) continues at the online site, Aeon, here.


Update (Feb. 19, 2017):

A Pew report finds that there was a big drop in the moving rates of 25-35-year-olds of the current generation compared to members of generations of the previous few decades when they were 25 to 35: See here.

Update (May 22, 2017):

This column from The Atlantic reviews some of the debate over whether underemployed Americans in declining towns should–or can–move to better opportunities.

Update (June 15, 2017):

This essay from Vox reviews the evidence showing the folks who stay put in their hometowns tend to have many disadvantages compared to those who move away.

Election Reflection

Mid-day, November 8, 2016. Not knowing the outcome and not being a scholar of elections, I thought I’d nonetheless make some comments on the election–hopefully informed ones.

The central question, the one that will occupy dissertations, articles, and books for many years to come, is how could about half of American voters, the great majority of whom are normal, decent, salt-of-earth Americans, choose as their president a self-admitted sexual predator and tax evader, policy ignoramus, major BS-er, unstable personality, and schoolyard bully who surrounds himself with neo-fascists?

(Does academic even-handedness require a similarly blistering description of Clinton? No, polite symmetry is not appropriate here. Clinton is in the historical range of somewhat-soiled presidential candidates–say, Nixon, Johnson, Kennedy. That pillars of the Republican party such as the Presidents Bush and Mitt Romney at least implicitly and conservative newspapers explicitly–the Arizona Republic and the Manchester Union-Leader, for example–do not endorse Trump testifies to his exceptionalism.)

One feature of this year’s campaign is that we have been able to follow social science research on it in real time. Web sites like Monkey Cage, Vox, Five-Thirty-Eight, and others have provided not only a running score based on the polls, but also often substantive analysis directed at answering that question, How could Trump could have so much support?

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