Category Archives: Elections in Focus, Spring 2017

The Immigrant Scapegoat

Brexit has come, but are ‘leave’ voters getting what they want?

By Rhea Pankhurst

Much has changed in the political landscape of Europe since the 2008 financial crisis, ensuing sovereign debt crises, and global economic recessions. A pan-European regime of fiscal austerity resulted in stagnant wages, declining access to social provision, and increasingly precarious employment. Britain in particular struggled post-crash, with the slowest recovery in the G8. Workers found themselves squeezed between static wages and sky-rocketing property prices. For the first time since World War II, a generation of Brits was growing up poorer than their parents.

Anxiety around the economy dominated the British electorate but so too did anxiety around immigration. Immigration had been a slowly escalating concern for UK voters since the early 2000s. At the turn of the millennium, it was the primary concern of less than 5 percent of the electorate; but post-crash, after having been temporarily eclipsed by the economy, it surged to new heights, more than doubling from 2013 to become the single most important issue for over 50 percent of voters by 2016.

The post-crash pan-European surge in populism saw the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) take first place in the 2014 European parliamentary elections. UKIP, originally founded with the sole aim of secession from the E.U., had a marginal presence in the national parliament, largely due to the first-past-the-post system used in British general elections. Increasingly, however, they became a substantial threat to the precariously ruling Conservative party by splitting the right-wing vote. In a bid to stymie UKIP and fight the rebellious Euro-skeptics in his own party, Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron promised the nation an in-or-out referendum on E.U. membership if his party won a majority in the 2015 general election. The Conservatives went on to win that majority, and in June 2016, the U.K. voted by a margin of almost 3.8 percent to withdraw from the European Union.

The opinion polling had always been …

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How to Make Sense of American Politics

In the aftermath of one of the most surprising elections in U.S. history, one factor should have predicted it all.

By Frederik Forrai Ørskov

Places like Mahoning County in Ohio and Macomb County in Michigan have not made many headlines in the coverage of American politics. Despite this, counties like these are crucial to comprehending how the pollsters got it wrong and Donald Trump triumphantly swept the electoral college in November.

So says Michael McQuarrie, a sociologist at the London School of Economics who has done extensive work on community organizing and development and is a prominent voice in the post-election debate on the causes of liberal electoral defeat. He sees both counties as symptomatic of the breakdown of Barack Obama’s Mid-American constituency, a breakdown that ultimately turned Hillary Clinton into an entirely coastal candidate and Donald Trump into the President of the United States.

Both counties are located in the so-called Rust Belt—the name given to a region marred by urban decay and post-industrial economic decline stretching roughly from the Great Lakes to the Upper Midwest and from western New York State to Chicago. Both counties saw large shifts from Democrat to Republican in the recent election; Macomb County voted solidly Republican although it had been won by Democrats in 2008 and 2012, and although Hillary Clinton held on—just barely—to Mahoning County, she only obtained 49.8 percent of the votes there, compared to Obama’s 63.5 percent four years earlier. Both counties are urban areas in which the Clinton campaign under-performed significantly compared to the average electoral outcome in cities nation-wide.

Mahoning County is home to Youngstown, a city located mid-way between Pittsburgh and Cleveland whose decline from thriving steel town to post-industrial slump has been eminently portrayed by Bruce Springsteen. Just like the northern suburbs of Detroit making up the electorate of Macomb County, the inhabitants of Mahoning County are predominantly white, middle-class workers. It is representative of …

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