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The decade of “Culture Wars” to come

There’s a new think tank, The Center for the Study of Partisanship and Ideology, that recently started up. It caught my attention because it’s headed by my friend Richard Hanania, and Zach Goldberg, of “Great Awokening” fame is a research fellow. I just got done recording a podcast with David Shor and we talked about the role of culture and economics in the modern political parties (the full podcast will be posted this week for subscribers to my Substack, and free in a few weeks on the main podcast site, but you can listen to a few minutes of Shor talking about his Sephardic Jewish background here).

One of the things that Shor mentions is that activists and academics have priors that shape the way questions are asked and therefore the answers that come out of those questions. So, for example, Shor does not accept the idea promoted by many Democrats that the public fundamentally has left-wing economic views. Rather, he seems to think that the perception is due to the manner in which questions are couched and framed by motivated activists and scholars.

Go where the data go, even unto China!

The first report produced by CSPI is not one whose conclusions I am particularly congenial to, The National Populist Illusion: Why Culture, Not Economics, Drives American Politics:

During the Trump presidency, some of the most interesting and innovative thinking on the center right has come from writers and politicians sometimes called “national populists.” This group challenges Republican orthodoxy on questions of economics and suggests that a new policy agenda, focused more on working-class concerns, could realign the U.S. electorate. We consider the plausibility of their claims, examining the relevant scholarly literature and recent trends among voters. The data show that most voters who supported Trump were overwhelmingly driven by cultural rather than economic concerns. This implies that the national populist vision is unlikely to provide major electoral gains for the Republican Party. Trump’s popularity among his supporters suffered very little due to his governing mostly as a conventional Republican politician, and those of his party who have adopted more redistributive voting patterns in Congress in recent years have not realized resulting gains at the ballot box. In fact, the American public gave Trump higher marks on the economy than any other major issue, contradicting the claim that more free market economic policies create an electoral cost. We also note that continuity with previous trends, rather than electoral realignment, was the norm in recent election cycles, meaning that the idea that there has been a major shift towards Republicans becoming the “working class party” is mostly a myth. Republican success in the future will depend on the party speaking to the cultural, rather than economic, concerns of its voters, whether symbolically or in more tangible terms. This can mean championing issues that Republicans have ignored in recent years like opposition to affirmative action, in addition to facilitating the kind of backlash politics towards cultural liberalism among non-white voters that has worked so well among whites in recent decades. Economic policies that seek to address working-class concerns but hinder overall growth can alienate both voters and donors for little gain.

Well, Hanania and company are offered up a prediction. Perhaps in ten years, they’re be profiling them in The Atlantic. I hope they have their crayon drawn charts handy.

Also, if you want 100 proof shit-posting, I recommend Richard’s Twitter account. It’s based.

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34 thoughts on “The decade of “Culture Wars” to come

  1. Total knee-jerk reactionary take: I think it may perhaps be a bit tricky and probably artificial to separate economics/policy and culture this way.

    Let’s say Trump had spoken the language of MAGA but did not actually do any of these America First type policies and stances in foreign policy. No negotiations on trade, no general side-lining of allies for unilateralism, no protectionism on US manufacturing jobs, no pulling out of treaties that he argued were disfavourable to the US, no “wall”, no real trend to military isolationism on the grounds that almost nothing is worth spilling American blood (as distinct from general “anti-imperialist” opposition to use of the military). (And is this stuff “Conventional Republican”, now? “Conventional Republicans” rather angrily seemed to believe not.)

    Would he then be taken as seriously by supporters on cultural issues at all? You may not have to do all of them, but can you really be taken seriously on presenting a patriotic/national cultural alternative without actually *doing* some of these things?

    Beyond that, if I had to steelman the quoted proposition here, it would be to advise the “National Populists” to remember that the chaotic luck/craftiness of Trump was specifically to get new support that allowed him and the Republican Party to flip certain states. (Hanania et al perhaps correct about “most voters” but focusing on “most voters” is not seeing the trees for the forest! Specific states.). He either saw, or lucked out into, and then exploited a situation where the left’s embrace of a cosmopolitan ethic made them seemingly deeply uncomfortable with even the idea of offering a segment of American voters and workers specific protection and redistribution from the negative impacts of trade (“Err… Isn’t that, like, unfair to Chinese factory workers trying to ‘lift themselves out of poverty’?”, they perhaps ask themselves silently, such thoughts troubling their minds and furrowing their collective brows). There’s a difference here in that the right tended and tends to see protectionism as economically inefficient, while the left tended perhaps more to see it as actually immoral (because it privileges the fellow citizen ingroup over the foreigner outgroup, and that’s like, bad, man?). It seems easier to compromise on efficiency than morality, so the right perhaps has an advantage in making such offers! But there is a limited number of such flippable constituencies in the USA, so be wary of the idea that the clarion call has just to be sounded and the invisible working class masses will rise to the ballot… The electorally smart thing may be to just make it clear they will “support” subgroups of citizens when it’s “needed” but that they’re not dogmatic protectionists. Take advantage of the fact that the Left’s default mode is internationalist class solidarity (an advantage when Extremely Online but a disadvantage in national votes) and that this class is increasingly the class of college educated professional workers, and this presents restrictions. But don’t over-egg your pudding with too much pro-working class rhetoric that is not electorally required and will scare the others supporters out of line?

  2. cultural liberalism among non-white voters

    Not true, this. Nonwhite voters are culturally more conservative than white liberals (e,g. homosexual marriage, transgender rights, etc.) – the latter has become considerably more liberal than in the past.

  3. In thinking how the culture war will be fought politically, first-past-the-post gets a lot of hate across the political spectrum, but one of the benefits of such an electoral system, as opposed to the representational parliamentary system common in continental Europe, is that if genuine splits occur in society, where 20% or more of the population feels strongly about some issue and is generally out of step with the rest of the population, one of the parties will naturally reach out to them in order to cultivate that portion of the population as a reliable voting bloc. In Europe, parties who speak to these blocs end up as also-rans, eternally in opposition and never having their concerns addressed and sometimes subject to a cordon sanitaire by all the other parties, but in an FPTP system like in the US or UK, they end up having real political power and see their concerns at least partially addressed.

    Many may say that it’s not “democratic” for minorities (whether religious, political, geographic, ethnic, racial, economic, social, or whatever other demographic characteristic you can imagine) to have an outsized say in politics, but comparing the long-running stability of American and British democracy to what has happened in the past 120 years in Europe and elsewhere, the anti-majoritarian tendencies that FPTP systems incentivize through political coalition building seem positive based on historical evidence. History does keep moving, though, so maybe this will end up wrong and FPTP systems will crash and burn in the coming decade.

  4. I think the piece would be better if dived into the tension btw/ these two statements:

    “although Trump performed well among the white working class, this was simply a continuation of trends that predated his entry into politics. In other words, this is a group that Republicans have been consolidating for decades.”

    “the idea that there has been a major shift towards Republicans becoming the “working class party” is mostly a myth. ”

    To me this sounds like the Republicans have a significant working class constituency, but importance is being placed on Trump (or Bannon) not owning that. In any event, Reihan Salam and Ross Douthat have written a lot about the disconnect between the Republican’s working class base and policies like tax cuts. They seem to have come to an entirely different set of conclusions about the Republicans advocating more economic support for workers and families.

  5. “The data show that most voters who supported Trump were overwhelmingly driven by cultural rather than economic concerns. This implies that the national populist vision is unlikely to provide major electoral gains for the Republican Party”

    I think that this does not make much sense (or any sense) – in a “national populist” scenario, people voting Republican by “cultural rather than economic concerns” is EXACTLY what is supposed to happen; after all, if the alternative is an economic populist, social conservative party versus a economic populist, social liberal party, of course people will vote mainly by cultural concerns (in contrast, if the choice was between an economic elitist, social conservative party versus an economic populist, social liberal party, people will vote by a mix of economic and cultural concerns).

  6. The Mekal comment seems totally conter-intuitive to me; if anything, it seems to me that it is in PR systems that minorities have sometimes an outsized weight (see the Haredim parties in Israel or the far-leftist Bloco de Esquerda in Portugal) compared to what will happen in an FPTP system (example – the Front National in France, who usually have very high results in elections, but because of the almost-FPTP french electoral system is totally marginalized, while similar parties with similar election results in PR systems – like in Denmark, Norway, Finland, Netherlands, Austria or Italy – were already in government or at least government-adjacent).

    I think that Mekal seems to forget that, even in PR systems, governments need to have a majority in the parliament, meaning that, in the end, they will need these parties with 20% of the votes (and these “20%” probably will have more influence as a small party in a coalition than as part of the electoral base of a mainstream party).

  7. “first report produced by CSPI is not one whose conclusions I am particularly congenial to”

    Razib please do expand upon your non-congeniality. Is due to your previously stated belief that {subgroup representation in powerful institutions (even when not entirely earned)} = {wealth balance} = {Republic-saving asabiyya}?

  8. I think that David Brooks is correct is his analysis that the roots of the “reality disconnect” involve alienation from an “information economy” elite in urban areas with different values and much greater prosperity that is culturally different. He’s also correct that economic measures that would alleviate that economic distress would start to end that alienation and put everyone on the same page. https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/david-brooks-the-rotting-of-the-republican-mind/ar-BB1brv2z

    The World Values Survey is consistent with the same conclusion. http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp?CMSID=findings

    It is in the interests of the GOP, as the conservative party in the U.S. two party system, to have people feel scarcity, uncertainty, alienation, and fear. Those are the conditions that tend to make people more conservative politically and socially. So, there is a strong political incentive for conservatives to encourage the continuation of those conditions and attitudes. Prosperity, predictability, trust and security makes people liberal and that hurts the GOP.

    So, while the paper’s reasoning isn’t as straightforward as it could be, the conclusion is probably right. If Republicans backed programs that made working class voters more economically secure and well off, those voters would start voting for liberals and become Democrats (absent another trade of positions on the left-right spectrum between the two major U.S. parties like the one seen in the second half of the 20th century).

    Few conservative pundits, scholars and politicians would admit that or articulate it that way. But the politicians, at least, know it instinctively. It explains, for example, GOP opposition to programs like Medicaid Expansion that cost states nothing and provide lots of material economic benefit to the GOP base in those states if adopted.

  9. @Mekal

    Thinking this through. I’m not sure that big picture, it matters much. In a two party system, people make coalitions to form a majority before the election. In a multi-party system (which proportional representation encourages), people make coalitions to form a majority after the election. But it is a bedrock of any representative democracy that decisions are made by legislative majorities whether those coalitions are made before or after the election.

    The single member district plurality voting system in the U.S. naturally favors a two party system (unless a third-party is well focused geographically, rather than evenly spread out, which is why the U.K. and Canada which have the same system still have nationalist, local autonomy or independence oriented third-parties), because third-parties in this system naturally hurt the main party closest to them in ideology. The Green Party hurts the Democrats. The American Constitution Party hurts the Republicans.

    But while in the long run, a single member district plurality voting system favors the continuation of a two party system, it does so by producing elected officials who are contrary to the majority sentiment now and then because most voters vote non-strategically and some of them allow the best to become the enemy of the good and emotional have temper tantrums causing them to vote for a third-party because they convince themselves that the two major parties are the same even though they don’t really believe that.

    You can avoid the spoiler effect of FPTP by having either a true runoff system, like Louisiana or Georgia or France, where it takes a majority to win a single member district and the top two candidates face off in a second round if spoilers have prevented the plurality winner from doing so. You can also compress that process in essentially the same way with Instant Runoff Voting.

    These systems do make it somewhat easier to run a third-party candidate since the third-party candidate isn’t toxic to his natural political allies. But, what runoff and instant runoff systems don’t do, which many other forms of proportional representation do permit, is allow someone who doesn’t have the backing of a majority of the public somewhere to hold office.

    Nationalist third-parties, that can evolve in FPTP systems, like parties seeking Scottish and Quebec and Northern Ireland independence in Canada and the U.K.) are invariable fairly centrist in terms of policy, because they need to win majorities in the places that are seeking autonomy.

    In contrast, a party that has widely dispersed 10%-20% support, but majority support nowhere, gets lots of voice and the ability to be a kingmaker in multi-party parliamentary systems with proportional representation, but is shut out completely in FPTP, runoff and instant runoff systems, all of which are systemically biased against extremists. A party like that can be much more extremist than one that needs to win a majority in some district.

    Germany’s proportional representation system artificially addresses this problem by having a 5% threshold to get seats in parliament. Election systems with no threshold and proportional representation, like Israel, gets lots of true extremists in parliament with a prominent voice and legitimacy, and with kingmaking potential. In Italy, which had a similar system, the five big non-extremist parties constantly entered unstable coalitions amongst themselves to keep the far right (basically neo-Nazis) and far left (basically Soviet style Communists) out of power. Both Israel and Italy are plagued with political instability as a result on the need for extremist support.

    But single member district plurality or majority systems not only prevent extremists from getting legislative majorities even as kingmakers, it also, over time, delegitimatizes extremist political voices by keeping them entirely out of elective office until the extreme reaches a point where it can capture a majority of one of the two major parties (which natural rebalance themselves to approach 50-50 in the overall outcome over time by adjusting coalitions and positions, so basically about 25% overall support), in a place where the extremism seems more desirable to the party it has gained a majority of than the other major party.

    Of course, by the time a faction is approaching 25% overall support, almost by definition, it isn’t so extreme any more.

    From a real politick perspective, a political force, even a substantial 10%-20% political force, that is a minority everywhere, isn’t much of a threat to the legitimacy and power of the parties that do win everywhere by majorities (collectively).

    Bottom line: The benefits of single member district first past the post systems aren’t really seriously impaired by runoff or instant runoff systems, which reduce spoiler effects that can elect people only favored by a minority. And since political systems naturally gravitate towards a 50-50 balance in the system as a whole, a few spoiler driven upsets can dramatically shift the nation’s entire policy set towards minority views and that’s pretty much definitionally bad.

    This isn’t a perfect solution. Any single member district system is inherently prone to gerrymandering which is a powerful distortion that isn’t solved with runoff or instant runoff voting systems. Proportional representation can fix that.

    One good way to split the difference is with mixed member proportional representation. First, have a single member district election (plurality, runoff, or instant runoff). Then, count the voters that were cast for each party in those elections, discarding votes cast for members of parties that received no seats (and thus preventing extremism). Then award bonus seats to parties that receive fewer seats in single member districts than they received in percentages of votes cast for parties that got at least one person elected to make the percentage of legislative seats match the percentage of the votes cast for members of that party (this also creates a turnout incentive for supporters of secondary parties in safe single member districts) to counteract the effects of gerrymandering.

  10. @ohwilleke thanks for being a voice of reason (both were outstanding comments.) Brooks wrote this https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/10/collapsing-levels-trust-are-devastating-america/616581/ piece a while back. I’m normally not a huge Brooks fan but this was some of the best writing and analysis i’ve seen from him probably ever. i sent it to my right wing friend and he said that it was some of the worst garbage he’d ever read so i knew i was on the right track!

  11. Eh. Andrew, the US just had four years of highest wage growth in working class since the Dubya years. Didn’t result in them much defection to Democrats.

    In the longer view, it makes more sense to view politics in transactional terms where voters generally reward politicians for gains. I think some model where conservative politicians’ attempts to improve the standing of their voters leads those voters to vote for the other party is inconsistent with the data. It’s not generally what happens in reality, where rewarding their usually wealthy base means that base votes for them again. More, where you have tilt away from conservative parties post-2008 among high income demo, this doesn’t really seem so much to be due to increased prosperity, going by what they say, but due to complaints by young in that demo that “I can’t buy a house”, “Student loan is too expensive”, “cost of living is too high”, and increasing shifts to media+education indoctrination etc. E.g. left wing parties appeal to economic grievance…

    That said, I think it would be great if left wing parties actually believed the argument you make, since it would incentivize them to chuck money at conservative voters to “liberalise” ’em while probably somewhat neglecting their own base… It would also incentivize them to be obsessed with income growth (since that is what “Make WVS line go up!”). The consequences of this could only be politically positive ; )

  12. @Miguel Madeira & ohwilleke

    I admit to forgetting the most important counter-example to my post: Israel, which I think most people would agree is a modern, functional liberal democracy. The ultra-orthodox parties, Shas and UTJ, are for the most part out of step with the general secular orientation of Israeli society, and combined they account for 15-20% of potential seats in the Knesset, but they do get built into the right-wing coalition with Likud. However, I chalk this up somewhat to there being a large party on the left end which is also out of step with Israeli society generally (and are in fact viewed as potential traitors and terror threats by the more right-leaning segments): the Arab parties, Joint List, etc, large factions of which are Islamist, communist, and generally pro-Palestinian. The competing extremes on both ends have been causing trouble for Israeli democracy lately, and we have to remember Israeli democracy is only 70 years old, shorter than a person’s life; we’ll see how the current rotation between Netanyahu and the centrist Gantz goes. If the fringes in Israeli politics continue to grow, it could be hard to build viable coalitions going forward. They had to quell hard-right politics by banning Kach 20 years ago, which doesn’t to me seem to be an effective way of handling extremists, the German threshold is better.

    On the European examples, I’d say that some of these “extreme” parties, like FPO in Austria, True Finns in Finland, DPP in Denmark, Vansterpartiet in Sweden, and so on that have participated as junior partners in coalition governments are not quite as “outsider” as they are advertised, and also that many of the single issues at which these parties are aimed end up getting addressed very little during the party’s tenure in government. I don’t know much about Portuguese politics, but looking at what the Left Bloc’s goals and ideologies are, it’s hard to say that they have accomplished anything during their tenure except propping up center-left parties, and Portugese democracy is barely in middle age (since 1975? 1976?). Maybe the Left Bloc did accomplish something noteworthy, though, and moreover, maybe I am moving the goalposts a bit, and it’s true that DPP was somewhat successful in their goals in Denmark.

    Also, my inner conservative is likely innately hostile to the more modern innovations in voting systems, as they are mostly untested by the historical process; 30, 40, even 50 years isn’t very long in the grand scheme of things. The updates to Ireland’s voting system stretching back to 30 years ago were supposed to be the peak in perfecting democracy according to professional political scientists and academic theorists, only for this year’s election to result in serious difficulties in forming a viable coalition and for Sinn Fein to remain continuously marginalized as the Dail defaulted to the centrist grand coalition they’ve had forever.

    I think we can all agree that Belgium’s system is not a model to be emulated.

  13. Yeah, I am not in favor of adopting continental Europe’s voting systems given their interesting history with democracy. Time needs to test their model of governance. So far I prefer the Anglo-American system which has provided stability for centuries.

  14. “It is in the interests of the GOP, as the conservative party in the U.S. two party system, to have people feel scarcity, uncertainty, alienation, and fear. So, there is a strong political incentive for conservatives to encourage the continuation of those conditions and attitudes. Prosperity, predictability, trust and security makes people liberal and that hurts the GOP.”

    Cripes, and 3+ thumbs up too.

  15. @Jason

    Yes, that’s completely contradicted by the Reagan era, in which Reagan and his GOP political allies sold conservatism electorally as the path to prosperity, predictability, trust and security and that it was “big government” that was destroying society and economic opportunity. And in the 1970s, it was probably an accurate assessment. Times have changed.

  16. To harp on a bit more the point, the idea that we find across countries that as wealth and living standards rise expressed values tend to transform in ways with some overlap with what we’d call “being more liberal”… that’s not exactly wrong. It’s kind of a thing that looks to happen, about the world, that we have to acknowledge and work with.

    (Although! By looking at disjoint between education performance and wealth, via the small set of countries with high wealth through oil resources without really having to *do* anything too sophisticated to get it, it does seem to me that the relationship seems stronger with education really, particularly female education… which makes us wonder about whether prosperity really does make us more liberal at all, or it’s just that prosperity is pretty tightly correlated to increasing degrees of education in a predominantly Western influenced mode, and this is really doing the work.)

    But here’s a possibly illustrative example of a loosely related process of reasoning: At least as I recall, back in the Aughts it was a fairly common idea and one drawn from the same fact, that long as China kept getting wealthier they’d eventually have just *such* liberal values that they would have to inevitably change governmental form to some sort of liberal democracy! The trend told us so after all! Hence (so went the argument) the best thing to do was simply to keep trying to make China as rich as fast as possible by whatever means, without too much worry about systemic conflict, and then the historical inevitability would eventually work its magic!

    Those people weren’t dumb (very far from it) or mad. They’d just taken an idea and run a long way with it…

  17. @Matt

    “it makes more sense to view politics in transactional terms where voters generally reward politicians for gains.”

    The general conservative or liberal political leanings of particular geographic areas are remarkably stable (even more so than the conservative or liberal political leanings of the political parties themselves).

    The political alignment of the American South and the Northeast U.S. relative to each other have been more or less stable since at least as far back as the American Revolution, and for the most part, further back to the Colonial era and to the leanings of the regions in Britain from which particular colonies received most of their colonists. Almost all of the counties that votes Republican in the 1876 Presidential election voted for the Democratic candidate in the 1976 Presidential election.

    Once a place develops a stable political leaning, this inertia pretty much remains stable until something consequential disrupts it. A gradual trickle of migration from outside generally results in assimilation, even when cumulatively the original peoples of the region are replaced.

    In part, this is because the relative economic positions of the regions have been pretty stable. The North has been more prosperous than the South economically since the early 1800s and the regional economic divide only got more intense in the aftermath of the Civil War. For example, in most of the rural American South, indoor toilets were starting to become widespread only in the 1870s to 1890s, decades after they were universal in most of the North and electrification their also trailed the North, a large share of the plantation owners lost their land to Northern mortgage bankers, and they were just starting to get shopping options beyond a county general store. The Great Depression wasn’t kind to the South either (although politically the Great Depression was a period of national consensus during which the Democrats became the dominant party nationally and social welfare and quasi-socialist programs prevented the extreme reactionary forces seen in Germany, Italy and Spain where measures like those weren’t instituted, only to revert to the partisan norm after World War II). Those are exactly the conditions that drive conservatism in a locality which is driven by economic conditions over time frames of decades not single presidencies.

    But that doesn’t mean that politics is static. While relative political leanings are stable, absolute stances on particular policies and legal issues shift over time.

    In 1963, the issue of interracial marriage was too explosive for mainstream Civil Rights leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. to touch the “social issue.” By the time that I was in high school, in the late 1980s, formerly segregationist politicians in Congress like Strom Thurmond, had staff members who were part of interracial marriages and treated the unproblematic nature of such a union as almost self-evident and uncontroversial.

    Mass migration and particularly significant economic and historic event and periods can also influence politics and shift the leaning of a place. Austin was not always a liberal mecca. San Francisco became a center of the gay culture in the U.S. because the Navy started dumping sailors who were discharged for being gay there starting in World War II. The Northeastern and Midwestern manufacturing industry surge, the related great migration of African Americans from the South to these urban centers (and parallel migrations of whites from Appalachia into industrial operations in Southern Ohio and Indiana), and the subsequent collapse of manufacturing creating the Rust Belt, profoundly influenced the politics of these regions. Nevada was pretty much a clean slate until air conditioning and the Hoover Dam made it viable to turn Las Vegas into an urban metropolis. Alaska retains only the thinnest cultural influences from the period when it was owned by Russia before the United States purchased it.

    We are, in my view, continuing the politically formative and influential course of events that started in the 1970s of the deindustrialization of the United States.

    Political party coalitions, in turn, are far less stable than that. The realignment of the Republicans and Democrats on the left-right political scale the started in earnest by Northern Democrats during the Civil Rights movements and by Goldwater’s Southern strategy in the 1960s has finally run its course after almost a decade in the 1980s or so in which the U.S. had a de facto three party system of Northern Democrats, Southern Democrats, and Republicans.

    Somewhere along the way, the political coalitions shifted so that Appalachians and Southerners who were so at odds with each other in the 1860s that West Virginia broke away from Virginia during the Civil War, have come to see themselves as closely aligned and part of the same political movement and ideologies.

    In 2000, working class white men shifted massively towards the GOP. In 2016, college educated white men shifted massively towards the Democratic Party.

    “the US just had four years of highest wage growth in working class since the Dubya years. Didn’t result in them much defection to Democrats.”

    This was a pretty minor correction to the long term secular trend starting in the early 1970s and continuing to the present, has been for working class white men to see their wages stagnate, their rate of participation in the labor force decline, and their unemployment rates grow.

    Rural America has faired similarly because farming is basically a form of manufacturing and subject to similar economic deindustrialization trends. Farmers went from receiving 50% of the retail proceeds of their products in the late 1950s to 15% today. The vast majority of rural counties with farming based economies in the U.S. have seen rapidly declining populations over the last few decade. This shift from being economically secure and prosperous to economically marginal (postponed temporarily by massive farm subsidies in the late 20th century that were ultimately scaled back) helps explain why the Great Plains and rural Midwest have pivoted from being moderate Democrats to solid Republicans. A Politico story spells it out in a story that gets the facts right although I don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions reached from them. https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2020/12/01/democrats-rural-vote-wisconsin-441458

    Meanwhile, while women and men aren’t indistinguishable in the labor market, career options for women have expanded dramatically beyond school teaching, cleaning, food service, child care, nursing and homemaking since 1970 (when, for example, only 3% of law students were women, now a majority of law students). Civil Rights era laws opened up opportunities for non-whites in the U.S. a lot in that time period, even though in absolute terms they were much worse off than whites. White college educated men captured a disproportionate share of economic growth in the last 50 years dramatically widening the magnitude of the socio-economic class divide in the U.S. to which David Brooks alludes.

    This economic shift has had profoundly personal impacts on the lives of a whole socio-economic class. In 1960 there was virtually no difference in marriage and divorce rates between whites and blacks or between working class and middle and upper class people in the U.S. Now, men without college degrees are marrying at record low rates, a large percentage of their marriages end in divorce when they do marry (often after not that many years), enforcement of court orders for divorced working class families fails as often as it works, and the average non-college educated parent’s child is born out of wedlock before marriage even in couples that eventually marry. Poverty and economic instability leads to conditions that make child abuse and neglect and domestic violence easier to slip into and that has caused the state to take away a lot of working class parents’ children from them. Meanwhile, college educated couples marry at high rates, rarely have kids out of wedlock, and have seen their divorce rates decline significantly over the last couple of decades.

    Yeah, the discontent doesn’t come from nowhere. A lot of the differences are driven by the declining economic lot of working class men. It is no surprise really that this very large swath of Americans are at their wits end with the status quo and have grown distrustful and paranoid.

    As of 2020, the Democratic party coalition includes disproportionate shares of the demographics that have improved their lot in relative terms in the last fifty years, and the Republican party coalition includes disproportionate shares of the losers in relative terms in that time frame. This profound rewriting of the economic and social class structure of the U.S. over the last fifty years is why we’ve seen so much change.

    If you can change the groups of people who are winners and losers with policy, you will gradually, perhaps it takes a decade or two, change how they vote. In that matrix the Republicans are in the unfortunate position of having a strong political incentive to rile up the losers and to prevent them from improving their lot, while the Democrats are in the more fortunate but burdensome and difficult spot of needing to turn losers into winners to gain voters.

  18. One more quick after thought. People are good at knowing if their situation is bad or good and that influences they’re politics a lot. They are bad at knowing the cause of their discontents, and the conventional wisdom and narratives about why things are the way they are which politicians often deal in are frequently wrong.

    For example, working class people know that their families are falling apart profoundly relative to their parents and grandparents generations. A lot of them, aided and abetted by clergy, have concluded that this is because of declining moral values. So, they have led a crusade to defend family values which has featured, for example, an anti-gay and anti-trans agenda that Trump has pushed relentlessly, and has boosted Evangelical churches who assert that they help keep families together.

    They’re right about the problem, but they’re wrong that it has much or anything to do with morality. Actually, the decline of the working class family is primarily a function of economics. But the people experiencing it have been primed by their religious and political leaders to think otherwise.

    If you can convincingly change people’s minds about the cause of their woes, you can dramatically change their policy preferences. But lots of leading politicians and politically active people on both sides aren’t aware of what causes are really driving what is troubling people.

    There are handful of folks on the progressive left who understand what is going on and are trying to change the narrative about what’s making life suck for the working class (which would naturally suggest different policies), but not many and their messages aren’t getting through.

    Changing people’s understanding of the nature of why life sucks for the working class in America, however, is the only way to relatively rapidly shift lots and lots of voters. It wouldn’t take many really articulate charismatic politicians to change that, however.

  19. @ohwilleke

    “As of 2020, the Democratic party coalition includes disproportionate shares of the demographics that have improved their lot in relative terms in the last fifty years, and the Republican party coalition includes disproportionate shares of the losers in relative terms in that time frame. This profound rewriting of the economic and social class structure of the U.S. over the last fifty years is why we’ve seen so much change.”

    I don’t think this is even remotely true, it’s pure backward logic. Of the key Democratic constituencies over the past 50 years, black voters, ideological liberals, and unionized workers (public or private), black people saw their fortunes nosedive in the 70s and 80s and early 90s then gradually recover over the past 25 years coinciding with the urban renaissance, liberals have remained mostly steady in their economic fortunes (usually upper-middle class, often live in the city or very close to it rather than suburbs), and unionized workers have tanked over the past 50 years, even in the public sector in the past decade as the walls close in on public finances.

    There’s been way too much shift in college-educated voters, suburban women, and so on to even talk about them as a key Democratic constituency, despite the fact that they are doing well and tend Democratic now Twenty-five years ago, the midpoint of your 50 year timeframe, let alone in the 1970s and 1980s, those demographics trended strongly Republican: so they were rewarded by the Democratic Party today for voting Republican in the mid 90s? Or successful groups vote Democrat today because that’s the party of success, while in the mid 90s the Republican were the party of success? Again, backward logic. Other demographics too: even rural white Christian conservatives were still voting Democrat into the 1980s. The idea that they would have done better had they kept voting Democrat instead of Republican is laughable, how would more Bill Clintons and Al Gores have helped them?

  20. “Maybe the Left Bloc did accomplish something noteworthy, though,”

    They legalized drugs and adopted policies that prevents Portugal from taking nearly as bad of a COVID-19 hit as Spain did.

    “Belgium’s system is not a model to be emulated.”

    Belgium, of course, has set records for the duration, post-election, that the legislators elected could not agree on a prime minister and cabinet.

    Belgium’s problems have very little to do with the electoral machinery of its democracy. Its problem is that it has no business being one country. Belgians have very weak national identity and a deep ethnic divides. It is basically two or three countries in personal union as a result of sharing the same constitutional monarch despite having no reason to be one country otherwise. Also, they have no external forces pressing on them that makes it urgent to get their shit together and reach agreements to address any urgent concerns.

    Sometimes problems are due to a bad electoral system. But sometimes political strife is a function of intrinsically hard to bridge disagreements.

  21. @ohwilleke

    Thank you for the update on the Left Bloc, I was genuinely soliciting information on their accomplishments (no sarcasm). Drug legalization doesn’t sound like something a center-left party would go for on their own, so left-wing pressure in a coalition likely made a difference.

    And yes, Belgium shouldn’t be a country as a strange artifact of the 19th Century Concert of Europe, but the electoral system that they devised to deal with the country’s divisions certainly hasn’t helped anything, and likely made it worse. Democratic politics is hard when you can’t even agree on language.

  22. A skilled amateur analyst of Moroccan Jewish DNA concluded that “concluded that about 15% of Moroccan Jews paternal lines are of Berber origin.” He wrote that these Berber lines are “E-L19 (10%), some subclades of T-M70 and Haplogroup E-V65 (1%).” Berber autosomal ancestry is at an increased level in more southerly Moroccan Jews compared to those in the north of the country.

    Actually, all Sephardic Jews and Ashkenazic Jews have small amounts of Berber autosomal ancestry, but for those from outside of Morocco it probably comes from Libyan Berbers rather than Moroccan Berbers.

  23. ohwilleke –

    The general conservative or liberal political leanings of particular geographic areas are remarkably stable (even more so than the conservative or liberal political leanings of the political parties themselves).

    They’re not. They can change within a generation. The south was the strongest supporter of FDR’s New Deal in the nineteen-thirties. White southerners voted for the most liberal president of the 20th century with margins that would resemble what Politburo members would later get when they ran for office in the USSR. 98.6% of South Carolinians voted for FDR in 1936, for example.

    Less than five decades later, the white south was a strong supporter of Reagan, who in some minds is the most conservative president of the 20th century. 63.5% of South Carolinians would vote for Reagan in 1984 – a level of support that would’ve been considerably higher if blacks in the state had not been allowed to vote that year as they were not allowed to vote in 1936 when FDR ran for re-election. My conservative guess based on state demographics is that Reagan won over 80% of the white vote in the state in 1984.

    So the people who voted over 80% for Reagan in 1984 had fathers and grandfathers who not even fifty year earlier voted over 95% for FDR In some cases, the person who voted for Reagan had, like Reagan, once supported FDR. And it wasn’t because those white southerners thought Reagan would reinstitute Jim Crow or because of how he saluted the flag when disembarking from Air Force One.

    Party ideology can also change quickly. White southerners loved FDR because he helped to develop the south with infrastructure projects and defense spending. Many of the military bases in the south today were put there by FDR and his southern congressional allies.

    By the nineteen-eighties, the ideology of Democrats was much different and so was the south. White southerners were wealthier and the south was more economically dynamic. There was less need for basic infrastructure. Taxes were also higher than they had been in the nineteen-thirties, which meant taxation as an issue was more important to white southerners than it once had been. Finally, Democrats at the time were threatening to cut back defense spending in 1984 which was certainly not true in 1936. Defense spending was one pillar of federal largesse that the South in the nineteen-eighties still wished to enjoy.

    We see similar movements in the Rust Belt after the GOP started pushing free trade in earnest. The impending ratification of NAFTA and Ross Perot’s candidacy killed the Rust Belt for Republicans until Trump came along. Even though the Democratic candidate in 1992, Bill Clinton, also supported NAFTA, the feeling among voters in the Rust Belt became one of “well, if the Republicans aren’t going to be nationalist on trade, then I’m better off with the Democrats who at least promise to give me something in return for free trade.”

    In all the cases above, the politics were, as Matt suggests, transactional.

    As of 2020, the Democratic party coalition includes disproportionate shares of the demographics that have improved their lot in relative terms in the last fifty years, and the Republican party coalition includes disproportionate shares of the losers in relative terms in that time frame. This profound rewriting of the economic and social class structure of the U.S. over the last fifty years is why we’ve seen so much change.

    None of this is true. One has only to look at economic data of voters to see you have no idea what you’re talking about.

    I haven’t seen the data for this recent election, but up till 2016 higher-income people on average were still slightly more likely to support the GOP and poorer people were a lot more likely to support Democrats. The data was clearer for poor people than wealthier people, and there are sharp regional differences, but as a rule of thumb it’s still true that the better off you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican.

    The only major change I’ve seen over the last fifty years is that the super-wealthy – not the one percenters, but the one-hundredth of one-percenters – are now overwhelmingly Democrat. Small business owners and managers remain the core of the GOP. But the operators of large firms and their top managers have now disembarked to the Democratic Party. I don’t believe a single Fortune 500 CEO endorsed Donald Trump in his two runs.

    My guess is that this small number of very wealthy people have more ways to protect their higher incomes from taxes than do small business owners, and so they no longer fear Democrats in power. They’re also more globally integrated and a new economic nationalism is more threatening to their interests than it was in the nineteen-eighties.

    Other issues are also less salient to them. Raising the minimum wage doesn’t mean anything to a hedge fund manager, for example, but it means a great deal to the owner of a small chain of local restaurants.

    But this is a tiny group of Americans. Probably no more than a few thousand in number.

    Your notion is similar to the discredited thesis of the Thomas Frank book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” The idea that Republicans need to immiserate and then distract people in order to win elections is complete bollocks.

  24. The whole passage sounds like spin doctoring for the neoliberal-neocon elites, lest that anyone should think that some aspects of the Trumpian populist heresy could be worth keeping.
    Just look at this obnoxious spin:
    ‘the American public gave Trump higher marks on the economy than any other major issue, contradicting the claim that more free market economic policies create an electoral cost.’
    To characterize the Trumpist economic policy, heavy on protectionism plus state-paid production (defense), as ‘more free market’ is plain nonsense. Free market was the mantra of the anti-Trumpistas of both parties.
    Why did many voters like Trump’s economic policies? They hoped protectionism and within-country environmental deregulation plus the reduction in illegal immigration would improve their lot. In fact, the reduction in illegal immigration correlated with better job opportunities and higher wages for poorer workers (see Borjas’s publications).

  25. Pincher, “I haven’t seen the data for this recent election, but up till 2016 higher-income people on average were still slightly more likely to support the GOP and poorer people were a lot more likely to support Democrats.”

    That’s the case with 2020 as well. Rich people voted for Trump and poor people for Biden.
    https://www.statista.com/statistics/1184428/presidential-election-exit-polls-share-votes-income-us/

    With respect to ultra-rich Democrats, I think there may be a reverse-Marxist explanation: they’re so rich that they have little no earthly reason to care about their economic self interest anymore, their standard of living is invulnerable. At that point, they care more about their legacy, how people perceive them, their social influence, etc. than about maximizing their networth. Just speculation though.

  26. Mark S –

    Thanks for the link.

    With respect to ultra-rich Democrats, I think there may be a reverse-Marxist explanation: they’re so rich that they have little no earthly reason to care about their economic self interest anymore, their standard of living is invulnerable.

    That might be true for a couple of people, but in general the fabulously wealthy did not get rich by not caring about their money.

    The super-wealthy is a small club, but intensely competitive. If you have several hundred million, you probably spend most of your time thinking and plotting about how to reach a billion. When you reach a billion, I bet you spend most of your time wishing you had five billion. And so on. I wouldn’t be surprised if Zuckerberg spends most of his time thinking about how he can be as rich as Bezos. He gives every indication that’s what he thinks about.

    So I think most wealthy people seek to maximize their income, just like everyone else. That’s true even when they give to charitable causes. In fact, setting up charity scams are among the most abused tax shelters by the wealthy. Just ask our current president and at least one of our former presidents.

    The range of corporate expenses which can be listed as tax deductions are also ludicrous. If I wanted to bankrupt professional sports, I’d probably rewrite the tax code to not include a 50% deduction on leasing those luxury boxes. And trading valuable assets so that it looks as if you never sell anything. Or you can use leverage and borrow against them. Again, no income to be taxed.

    My point is not to demonize the super wealthy or large corporations, but to point out that their current political views are still understandable in simple transactional terms. They are not above politics. They just understand that the current Democratic establishment is not a threat to their well-being in the same way it might be to smaller businesses which as a rule can’t be as nimble in exploiting the tax loopholes as wealthier individuals and corporations can be.

  27. They just understand that the current Democratic establishment is not a threat to their well-being in the same way it might be to smaller businesses which as a rule can’t be as nimble in exploiting the tax loopholes as wealthier individuals and corporations can be.

    I should point out that this would not have been true if Bernie Sanders had been nominated by the Democrats. As feckless as Bernie is, he views corporations and the wealthy with genuine suspicion and his politics reflect that.

    But national Democrats from Bill Clinton onwards have been safe bets for the super wealthy. Clinton, Gore, Kerry, Obama, Hillary, etc. were not going to rock the boat for them. In fact, I would say that Bill Clinton was a far more successful conservative president than either George W. Bush or Donald Trump. He lowered the capital gains rate ( at the same time he raised, slightly, the top income tax rate), got rid of the worst aspects of welfare, balanced the budget, and lowered the increase in government spending below its previous expected trajectory. Not just defense spending because of the end of the Cold War, but discretionary spending as well.

    Uninformed conservatives get pissed off when I tell them that Bill Clinton was more conservative than George W. Bush, but it’s true. I missed the nineties. It was a great decade. One of the best in American history.

  28. @ohwilleke

    The nationalist parties in Quebec (the federal Bloc Quebecois and provincial Parti Quebecois) are more-or-less mainstream in terms of policy, but they actually advance their separatist agendas without majority support.

    FPTP and Quebec demographics and geography makes this possible — federalists are concentrated in Montreal and its inner suburbs, while separatists are more spread out. This leads to bizarre situations like the 1994 Quebec provincial election, in which an 0.3% popular vote advantage for the separatists translated into a 77-47 seat advantage in the Quebec legislature. This allowed them to push for a hugely divisive separation referendum the following year.

    In fact, neither the federal nor the provincial separatist parties have ever won more than 50% of the vote in Quebec. They don’t need to appeal to the majority — just to enough people, in enough places.

  29. @ohwilleke For example, working class people know that their families are falling apart profoundly relative to their parents and grandparents generations. A lot of them, aided and abetted by clergy, have concluded that this is because of declining moral values. … Actually, the decline of the working class family is primarily a function of economics.

    Could you elaborate on how “families … falling apart … is primarily a function of economics”?

  30. @Roger, I think the argument from andrew has tended to be that because there is in the present day a marriage gap between wealthier and less wealthy people, change in wealth tends to explain lower marriage rates in present day poorer people in US in a long historical sense.

    This seems kind of difficult to sustain to me. Numerous data points suggest against it. Mostly South Asian folks in the Asian category in the UK have 50% higher marriage rates of White Brits – not because of wealth (https://www.ethnicity-facts-figures.service.gov.uk/uk-population-by-ethnicity/demographics/families-and-households/latest). Cross-nationally relational mobility has a good relationship with marriage and divorce while Ginis etc not really – http://relationalmobility.org/ (Swedes are about as divorce happy as Americans, etc; if anything lower income inequality relates to higher divorce, but probably an artifact of richer countries having lower Ginis). Etc.

    In general it seems a bit odd that people, broadly on the socially liberal left, would work to destigmatize divorce as a failure and re-frame it more positively as an mature thing to do for the good of children, and an act of liberation… then arguments come out declare that this just simply didn’t matter, didn’t have any consequences, and divorce is now all about economics. Like, “own it” guys – if you thought it was a good cultural struggle then, don’t shirk it now.

  31. @ Matt

    change in wealth tends to explain lower marriage rates in present day poorer people in US in a long historical sense.

    Is this a different way of saying that having two serial wives and putting 23 pairs of hands into the fields is no longer economically advantageous?

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