Right-Wing Populism Is Prevailing in Left-Wing Strongholds Around the World

Nate Cohn, New York Times, June 27, 2016

Across the postindustrial world, the populist right is excelling in the old bastions of the left.

If there is a lesson for the United States in the decision by British voters to exit the European Union, it is the importance of the emerging split between the beneficiaries of multicultural globalism and the working-class ethno-nationalists who feel left behind. These issues have the potential to overcome longstanding partisan ties, even in the United States.

The power of these issues was evident in the British referendum Thursday evening as the votes were counted. The result in Sunderland–long a Labour stronghold, which voted 62 percent to “Leave”–was the first clear sign of the final outcome.

In the end, many of Labour’s traditional working-class strongholds in old industries across northern England voted for “Brexit.” {snip}

“Remain” did better than the Labour Party normally does in the establishment-friendly, traditionally Conservative and more affluent countryside of southern England, let alone in the Conservative seats of London, but not by enough.

The same story unfolded in the recent Austrian elections. The far right won working-class areas that sided with the Social Democrats a decade earlier. Similar patterns show up in Denmark and Germany, with the center-left doing better in cosmopolitan metropolitan areas and with populists gaining in former leftist strongholds.

The result is familiar to Americans: an electorate split between the well-educated, diverse and cosmopolitan metropolitan areas connected to the global economy and the older, less educated, former industrial regions that haven’t benefited from globalization.

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But in much the same way that immigration and nationalism proved to be more persuasive to the more secular European working class, European-style populism–now embodied by Donald Trump–could do additional damage to the Democrats in many parts of the United States.

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There are many relatively secular, traditionally Democratic working-class bastions across the North where the Republicans have made few or no gains in recent decades. Scranton, Pa.; Youngstown, Ohio; and the Iron Range counties in Wisconsin all gave more than 60 percent of the vote to President Obama in 2012. There are areas like this across the Northern United States–from Aberdeen, Wash., and Butte, Mont., to the coasts of Rhode Island and Maine–where the Republicans have made marginal or no gains, in no small part because cultural appeals fell flat where there were not many evangelical Christians.

These were also among the places where Mr. Trump fared best in the primaries.

He won 70 percent in Scranton and nearly 80 percent in nearby Wilkes-Barre. He carried more than 50 percent of the vote in Youngstown, even though his opponent–John Kasich–was the state’s governor.

He won more than 50 percent in all of the Iron Range counties in Wisconsin, even though he lost badly statewide.

His best state was Rhode Island: the state where Democrats did best among white working-class voters for much of the 20th century.

Voter-file-based polling data also indicates that Mr. Trump fared best among those self-identified Republicans who nonetheless remain registered as Democrats or who have a history of voting in Democratic primaries.

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It’s a problem for Democrats. They are a lot more dependent on the Northern white working class than the prevailing narrative of recent electoral contests tends to acknowledge. Northern working-class whites represent a larger share of the electorate than generally believed, and Democrats have been winning a larger share of them than has been typically understood.

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