Deep Roots: On the Persistence of American Populism
124 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2023
Date Written: July 27, 2023
Is American populism a persistent political phenomena? Using a new dataset linking county vote shares in the 1890s with recent periods, we show that populist movements in the United States have deep roots. Counties where voters were enthusiastic about populist parties in the late nineteenth century had higher vote shares for Donald Trump in the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections. Exposure to globalization and the intergenerational transmission of political beliefs seem to be mechanisms behind this. Our instrumental variable results imply that globalization fostered populism in the 1890s which in turn laid the ground for populism today. Using individual policy preferences, we show that counties with more individuals holding populist attitudes today are associated with counties voting more populist in the 1890s. Moments of rapid economic change, such as those engendered by globalization, may propel the resurgence of such attitudes, which can then be popularized by charismatic leaders.
Keywords: Populism, globalization, “People’s Party,” Trump
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