When it comes to political shocks, 2016 will be remembered as a monumental year. In June, Brits voted to “take back control” and leave the European Union. In November, Americans elected Donald Trump to “make America great again”.
Much has been written about the supply side of populism; the demagogic appeal of Trump and Leave, but what of the other side? What is driving the search for populist solutions from the voters’ point of view? And will these forces be significant enough to mould politics in their own image in the years ahead?
Taking a deep-dive into the data from the votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump highlights that they were driven by similar factors. In both countries, increasing geographical polarisation has trapped certain demographics stagnating in areas where they have been denied the social, educational and economic opportunities that many people elsewhere now take for granted.
A mixture of economic, cultural and political factors are important for explaining the political earthquakes. Both votes were political statements by people living in places where politics and politicians passed them by, without political opportunities to register the lack of cultural, economic and educational prospects until Brexit and Trump came along.