Lessons of Brexit and Trump

Three days after the U.S. presidential election of November 8, 2016, the British Broadcasting Corporation published an article by John Curtice comparing the outcome of the election to the vote in the U.K. on remaining in the EU, the so-called Brexit vote. (http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37943072) Curtice is a professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, Scotland. He began the article by remarking that the dramatic victory for Donald Trump brought a strong sense of déjà vu to many in the U.K.

Curtice mentioned several similarities between Brexit and Trump’s victory. “Both majored on concerns about immigration. Both questioned whether the existing global financial order necessarily benefitted the ordinary man in the street. And both portrayed themselves as the underdogs campaigning against an allegedly complacent and out of touch political establishment.” He attributed these stances to a group referred to in the U.K. as “left behind,” who are voters who “feel they have lost out economically in recent years.” The article compares statistics from exit polls in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Older voters, age 45 plus, favored leaving the EU, while younger voters, age 18-44 preferred to remain in the EU. In the presidential election, older voters preferred Trump; younger voters favored Hillary Clinton. In both cases the older voters were favoring a change from the current policies, under which they felt “left behind.”

Educational level divided the voters in similar ways. “In the U.K., polls suggested a majority of university graduates were keen on remaining in the EU, while those without a degree voted to leave. In the U.S., exit polls indicated college graduates were more likely to vote for Hillary Clinton, whereas those who were not college graduates inclined towards Donald Trump.” In both cases non-college graduates were more likely to reject the status quo.

Variation in voter behavior by race also demonstrated preference for the status quo among non-white voters. White voters favored Trump while non-white voters favored Clinton. Whites favored leaving the EU, while black and ethnic minority voters favored remaining, “put off perhaps by the Leave campaign’s focus on the issue of immigration.”

As facts turned malleable in the run-ups to the votes, the media’s polls, though close, indicated a Brexit loss and a Clinton win. When the results proved otherwise on the morning after, there was a soft chorus of “Wait a minute. If I thought this was likely to happen, I would have voted.” A close election is not the time to sit out the vote.

Close races are playing out in several countries in Europe. Anti-globalization, nationalism, and cultural and racial homogeneity are common themes. The December 4th presidential election in Austria may go to the far-right Freedom Party. The Netherlands anti-Islam Freedom Party is in a tight race in Parliamentary elections scheduled for March. Between late August and late October Germany’s federal elections will see a challenge to Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union by the far-right Alternative for Germany.

France’s presidential election will be a contest between the center-right Republican party, the Socialist party, and the far-right National Front. Marine Le Pen is the candidate of the National Front. François Fillon became the Republican party candidate on November 27th. The Socialist party will choose its candidate in a primary election on January 22nd, with a runoff January 29th if no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the primary.

France’s presidential elections, which are conducted in two stages, require the winner to receive a majority of the popular vote. Assuming no candidate receives an absolute majority in the first round on April 23rd, the top two candidates face each other in the second round on May 7th. The far-right National Front candidate for president, Marine Le Pen, is polling high enough that she is expected to make it to the final round voting against either François Fillon, the centre-right Republican candidate, or the winner of the Socialist party election

Marine Le Pen is not expected to be elected president, according to polls. Similarly, polls placed the chances of Brexit and a Trump win as close, but trailing. All of Europe’s far right parties are emboldened by Brexit and Trump’s victories.

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