Economic and Social Discontent in U.S. Elections

Project: Research project

Project Details


The populist rebellions of 2016 – in which democratic socialist Bernie Sanders mounted a strong challenge for the Democratic presidential nomination, and populist-sounding billionaire Donald Trump actually won the presidency – have provoked a number of questions and controversies. To what extent did Trump’s victory reflect social and cultural discontents, manifested in racism, xenophobia, and misogyny? To what extent did the populist rebellions arise from decades of economic stress and dislocation: wage stagnation, factory closings and job losses, the deterioration of entire communities? And did social anxieties themselves result from economic pain, which politicians may have helped transmute into cultural resentments? Serious exploration of these questions requires a comprehensive research design of a sort that has never been applied to U.S. elections. We must begin with data on the deep roots of economic and social discontent within communities: information about two or three decades of pressures from international trade, automation, immigration, and demographic changes; trends in jobs, wages, and family incomes; changing frequencies of alcoholism, drug use, and suicides. We need to merge these contextual data with survey research data on what the American voters of 2016 (and, for comparison, 2012) reported about their lives; their feelings of economic and social distress; their views of the political world, including what they thought about the available parties and candidates; and their political behavior and voting choices.
Effective start/end date3/1/1712/31/19


  • Institute for New Economic Thinking (#INO17-00006)


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