Despite Trump, the United States Is Probably More Socially Liberal Than Ever

By Justin Murphy (@jmrphy), Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton.


There is a lot of confusion about whether we’re seeing significant ideological change in the United States. With Trump and the re-appearance of white nationalism in the public spotlight, many people are wondering if conservative (right-wing) ideology is on the rise. One can find many influential outlets endorsing this notion. CBSBBCVox, and certainly others have all run articles suggesting this. On the other hand, many conservatives believe that “liberal” (left-wing in America) ideology is on the rise. There are good reasons for people to be confused, because the dynamics of ideology in the United States are confusing. To help clear up some of the confusion, I’ve written this guide to some of the basics of what political scientists know about the long-term historical dynamics of ideology in the United States. And how they shed light on what is happening, or not happening, right now.

If there is one substantial ideological shift in American public opinion in the post-war period, it is the dramatic and near-universal increase in social liberalism since the 1950s. There has not been a general shift to the left or right because economic conservatism has not changed much (although it has polarized on the left and right). There has been some cyclical, “thermostatic” movement in opinion (which is normal). There have been changes in symbolism (“liberalism” became stigmatized in the 1960s). And there have been some dramatic shifts in party identification (a pretty massive Republican resurgence with Reagan). Otherwise, one cannot say the American public has moved to the right or left as a whole, in any significant way, in the long-run or recently, except that it has become more socially liberal. There have been some interesting and substantial ideological shifts within groups, but that would need to be another post.

Racial Liberalism Data from Atkinson et al. (2011)
Racial Liberalism data from Atkinson et al. (2011) 

There is currently no good evidence I am aware of that overt racism or white nationalism is growing.1 It likely appears larger than it is, especially to progressives, precisely because it has never been less common in American history. This says nothing about how such stupid and malicious groups should be dealt with.

This is my interpretation based on what we know about long-term ideological dynamics in the United States. For a more detailed tour of that data, see the post on my personal blog, “Are Americans becoming more conservative or liberal (right or left)?”

 


  1. The only exception I have found is the data on the number of “hate groups” collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which reveals an upward climb since 1999. I am not going to say it’s wrong in a dismissive footnote, because it would deserve more attention than that. But I am excluding it from consideration here for a few reasons. First, it includes a wide variety of groups well beyond explicitly racist or white nationalist groups, including black separatist groups. So in this sense it does not reflect what I am considering in this post. But also the SPLC has come under fire for being increasingly politicized and untrustworthy as a data source. See this article from Politico, for instance. My personal view is that there has been a tendency in recent years for progressive groups to lower their bar for what counts as a hate group, and at least a few cases on the SPLC’s list suggest to me this has occurred there, at least to some degree.

Decarbonisation and Poverty

By Chris Armstrong, Professor of Political Theory at the University of Southampton.


The spectre of dangerous climate change throws up many challenges. This post concentrates on just one of them – albeit one which has received too little attention. We know that if dangerous climate change is to be avoided, the majority of the world’s fossil fuel supplies cannot be burned. If we are committed to avoiding temperature rises in excess of 2ºC, for example, an estimated two thirds of proven fossil fuel reserves must go unused by 2050. To these reserves must be added all anticipated supplies which are not yet commercially available.

If there is widespread agreement that our dependence on the world’s most valuable commodity must be radically curtailed, this simple fact throws up a series of important questions. Politically, the most pressing question is how to ensure that the world adheres to the available ‘carbon budget’ by leaving most supplies unexploited. The earliest attempts to curtail fossil fuel use aimed to depress demand, for instance by way of carbon taxes, or compulsory cap-and-trade mechanisms. Increasingly, though, attention has shifted to measures which would restrict the supply of coal, gas and oil. In principle – since there are far fewer extractors of fossil fuels than there are consumers, and since extraction is immobile – supply ought to be easier to monitor and control than demand.

But an important moral question is how to manage any losses generated by the ‘decarbonisation’ of the global economy. Leaving the oil – and the gas, and the coal – in the soil will have major consequences for a number of actors. Unless they manage to diversify first, fossil fuel companies may have billions of dollars wiped off their stock market valuations. Thousands of people employed in the oil, gas and coal industries could lose their jobs. Indeed a whole series of people in peripheral industries – right down to people running cafes and general stores in mining towns – might do so too. Shareholders, and ordinary pension holders, might be exposed to significant losses, given that many investment funds maintain large holdings in fossil fuel industries.

Finally – and of particular interest from the point of view of debates on global justice – fossil-fuel exporting countries stand to lose out on a significant source of revenue. On one estimate, the overall revenues foregone when these assets are ‘stranded’ could total tens of trillions of dollars globally.  Moreover, some of the greatest losses are likely to occur in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and Latin America, since developing country exporters are particularly likely to have untapped – or even unexplored – supplies.  For instance, it has been calculated that 73% of the coal found in Central and South America, and 90% of African supplies, must go unexploited if we are to meet a 2ºC target. The countries of the Middle East and Africa, meanwhile, may have to leave their entire unconventional gas reserves underground.

The economic consequences could be dramatic. Consider a simple comparison. According to the OECD, annual oil revenues flowing to Nigeria alone are more than triple the Overseas Development Assistance flowing to the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa. To be sure, fossil fuel wealth has often turned out to do disappointingly little for the ordinary citizens of developing countries, and in some cases it has locked countries into cycles of bad governance and civil strife. Nevertheless, it has also spurred periods of remarkable economic growth. For the taps to turn off now could generate an economic shock that poor countries are ill-equipped to weather.

The world has rightly focused on how the transition beyond carbon can be brought about. But we also need to make sure it is a just transition. It cannot be a transition which leaves some mired in poverty. As a result, we need to give serious attention to side-policies which would offset morally troubling losses of development opportunities. As well as being morally pressing, doing so will be politically important too. The chances of stabilising our climate are all the slimmer if parties to any agreement feel that their legitimate grievances are not being addressed. It is likely that ‘Only a global climate deal that compensates losers and is perceived as equitable by all participants can impose strict limits on the use of fossil fuels in the long term.’

The vitally important question to which we are only now shifting our attention is: what policies should accompany decarbonisation, so as to make the transition away from carbon a fair one? Assuming that these policies will have a cost, who should pick up the tab, and on what basis? These are important questions for both theorists and policy-makers. I was recently lucky enough to be involved in an excellent conference on just such questions, on the island of Lofoten in Norway – a country which famously relies on oil and gas sales for much of its wealth, but is now thinking seriously about the post-carbon future. It is to be hoped that this conference is a sign that the question about decarbonisation and poverty will be taken up much more widely.

Recommended summer reading for new @Sotonpolitics students (and anyone interested!)

Occasionally students contact us asking if there is any required reading prior to the start of their course, or if we could recommend some texts to help them prepare for their first year. Below is a list of books that members of PAIR staff have recommended for students to read during the summer before their first year. While we obviously do not expect you to read all of these books, reading one or two will be a good preparation for your degree and will give you a taste of the kinds of topics you will study on your course.

 

General Politics

On Democracy, by Dahl

Why Politics Matter, by Stoker

In Defence of Politics, by Crick

A Novel Approach to Politics, by Van Belle and Marsh

If Only They Didn’t Speak English: Notes from Trump’s America, by Sopel

 

Public Policy

Nudge, by Thaler and Sunstein

Agendas and Instability in American Politics, by Baumgartner and Jones

 

International Relations

Theories of International Politics and Zombies, by Drezner

States and Markets, by Strange

Activists beyond Borders, by Keck and Sikkink

 

Political Theory

Political Philosophy, by Swift

On Liberty, by Mill

The Prince, by Machiavelli

 

Research Methods

Thinking Statistically, by Bram

 

Political History

The Cold War: A New History, by Gaddis

Ill Fares the Land, by Judt

 

 

How ‘economic’ is opposition to migration?

By Anna Killick. Anna Killick is a PhD student in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Southampton.


What does the election tell us about the Ford and Goodwin theory that the political system is changing to ‘a newer set of cleavages that are largely cultural rather than economic’ (Ford and Goodwin 2014:29)? They argued in ‘Revolt on the Right’ that the white working class, characterised as ‘left behind’, are increasingly relying on their authoritarian cultural values, deserting the Labour Party for UKIP. In this post I highlight research which challenges Ford and Goodwin by pointing to the continuing importance of economic issues to working class voters.

Ford and Goodwin argue that the increase in migration from 2004 led to greater opposition to migration. Since both Labour under Blair and the Conservatives under Cameron had moved to the centre to attract cosmopolitan liberal voters, and New Labour was perceived as doing less to help its traditional working class base than it had in the past, the two developments contributed to a rise in support for UKIP. Anti-migration sentiment was also instrumental in the Leave victory in the 2016 referendum. Survey evidence tracking anti-migration beliefs over time and the increased percentages perceiving migration as the most important issue in politics support their case. However, how Ford and Goodwin interpret the nature of the anti-migration beliefs may be over-simplistic.

They claim ‘in Britain, as elsewhere in Europe, the strongest and most inflexible opposition to migration has come from voters who see it as a source or symbol of rapid social change (Ford and Goodwin 2017:5) [my italics]’.  It may be the case that a proportion of anti-migrant people, whether middle or working class, are so xenophobic or racist that their opposition to migration is deep-rooted and social and that such people are the backbone of UKIP support. But does this hold for the majority of people who say they are opposed to migration? Some survey evidence, such as for British Social Attitudes, always showed that opposition to migration was as much economic as it was cultural and, indeed, anti-migration sentiment dropped during the economic good times of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

A neglected area in this debate is how working class people in particular define categories like ‘economic’. My interview-based research into public understanding of the economy, to be published next year, includes questions on what people believe about the economic effects of migration. The in-depth interviews of sixty Southampton residents show that people who oppose migration often do so as much for economic as cultural reasons. When I ask ‘what do you understand about the economic effects of migration?’ interviewees respond with arguments about migration driving wages down, increasing competition for jobs, leading to increased use of zero hours contracts and competing for scarce resources in the health service, housing and benefit sectors. They do not believe the usually nationally based economic research that migration has net benefits for the economy, but it is not clear whether the reason for their rejection of the national research is cultural racism or that the national research flies in the face of their local economic experiences.

Some aspects of understanding of the economic effects of migration can be illustrated by three extracts, all from interviews with working class women in their 50s and 60s. Linda, who lives on a low wage topped by benefits, believes migrants are attractive to employers looking to drive wages down:

it’s just that I think rich people take advantage of the poor people in ways of cheap labour you know… we don’t get the opportunity to have the jobs because we have to work for a proper wage to live and they don’t want anybody to do that, they want cheap [migrant] labour. The rich stay rich, the poor stay poor forever and I think it’s getting worse.

Beverley, aged 65 and having worked all her life as a telephonist and shop assistant, believes migration is exacerbating the acute shortage of social housing in the city : ‘the migration, they’re letting so many people in and there’s no place for us to live at the moment.’ Shelley, aged 50 and on disability benefit, echoed the comments of many people I interviewed that migrants should not be able to claim benefits: ‘there’s so many that come and claim benefits and claim benefits for the kids that are in their country as well. That’s got to do some damage economically really’.

Interview-based research allows us to engage more deeply with how people define problems. Much has been made of survey evidence indicating that in the EU referendum Leave voters tended to see ‘migration’ as the most important issue whilst Remain voters saw the ‘economy’ as most important. But understanding of what ‘economy’ covers is not necessarily shared across all social groups. For instance, middle class interviewees were three times more likely to use the term ‘economy’ in my interviews, indicating that it may be a more negative term for working class interviewees. Some of those who said ‘migration’ was the most important issue may have been using it as a ‘catch all’ phrase that encapsulates their concerns about employment and austerity. Whilst they did support UKIP and voted to Leave the EU, they may be open to a party such as Labour in 2017 which promises to address their economic grievances, even though it is by means other than controlling migration.

So we should be open to the possibility both that anti-migration feeling is more economic than cultural and that ‘economic stewardship’ rather than ‘cultural values’ is still the dominant cleavage in British politics.

The Society for Latin American Studies 2018 annual conference comes to Southampton

The University of Southampton will host the Society for Latin American Studies for its annual conference on 22-23 March 2018 at the University’s Winchester campus. The theme of the 2018 SLAS Conference is: Latin American Studies Around the World. The conference website can be found here.

Call for submissions

SLAS and non-SLAS members are encouraged to submit panel and paper proposals to be discussed at the 2018 SLAS Annual Conference on 22-23 March 2018. The deadline for all submissions is 16th July 2017.

To submit panels and papers, click here.

Thoughts on the 2017 election and what next for Labour

By Dan Jeffery. Dan Jeffery is a former Labour councillor on Southampton City Council, serving as Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Education. He is an alumnus of the University of Southampton, studying Politics and International Relations. He works as an advisor on medical workforce issues for University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust.


This is a guest post by one of our alumni. We very much welcome similar submissions from former students and colleagues to the blog.

1) Progressive alliance in tatters

If we needed any clear signs that the so-called Progressive Alliance is a blind alley, last Thursday’s result was the clearest yet. Support for third parties has crumbled to a 40 year low. Labour has now clearly positioned itself as the big tent party of progressive opinion, and should ignore siren calls for cooperation with Liberal Democrats or Greens. Ironically, on the Isle of Wight, where Clive Lewis and Tulip Siddiq called for Labour to stand aside for the Greens, Labour is now a clear second, scoring its best result since 1959.

In Scotland, written off two years ago, there is now a path back to power. Labour’s conversation must now include a roadmap to winning seats across the Central Belt, where Labour came within spitting distance of winning even more seats.

2) Warning signs in the Brexit hinterlands

There’s no doubt Labour had a good campaign, particularly in London, Wales, and the South, where Labour is positioned to win in many southern urban centres next time. But we cannot ignore the worrying trend in some of the old Labour strongholds, including former mill and pit constituencies. Labour bastions like Stoke-on-Trent, Mansfield and Walsall were picked up by the Tories, and in Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover, a whopping 7.7% swing was recorded in the Tory’s favour. Our vote was also unevenly distributed, winning 83% in places like Walthamstow, while coming within a whisker of losing a whole bunch of Labour seats in Dudley and Barrow.

3) No more “local” campaigns

Of course, MPs need to campaign on their record, but there was too much cautiousness on the part of party machinery in terms of how Labour projected its messages. Many MPs, working on the assumption that the Corbyn programme was electoral poison, refocused their strategy around what amounted to a local government election. Last Thursday showed there is a path to power on a left programme, so in future all candidates must be more prepared to push national messages and policies. There is also insufficient flex in our bureaucracy to enable a mid campaign shift in resources. I am no campaign guru, and would never claim to be (and of course hindsight is 20:20), but it is a shame that when the polls were shifting in our favour, we weren’t able to re-orientate our party to take the offensive against the Tories. With a membership approaching a million, there must now be real investment in building organisational capacity, and assisting volunteers in doing things themselves.

4) Learn to love the Bomb

In what I think will be looked back as an important moment in the united campaign fought by the party, the neutralisation of Trident by clearly supporting renewal was significant. The party as a whole was able to minimise Corbyn’s lifetime political ambition to ban the bomb. And with Corbyn turning the issue of security onto one of Tory failings, we were able to strike a blow far more mortal than our opponents recognised. But we may not have that luxury by the next election, where our programme will be bombarded every month. Corbyn, in my view, would be wise to do a Kinnock and drop a commitment to unilateralism that would allow us to be painted as weak on defence.

5) Drop the constitutional silly buggers

Corbyn, rightly, has scored an enormous personal victory. His steely determination has united a party that six weeks ago was predicted to be about to embark on the 100th battle of a long civil war. He has earned the right to stay on as party leader, and use his anti-austerity credentials to shape policy. There is now, across the entire party, a determination to unite and defeat the Tories — which makes a Conference punch up over how we elect the leader of the Labour Party all the more unnecessary. Nothing would be a bigger own goal than for United Labour to go into Conference and tear the bandages off of a healing wound. The public don’t care about our rules, they care about our policies and want us to get on with the job of opposition. I would suggest that Momentum consider dropping support for the McDonnell Amendment.

6) Magnanimity in (relative) victory

Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn will feel understandably vindicated that having argued for two years there was an electoral appetite for his policies, they have been able to win support (though, clearly we’re still a long way off being in Government). My response, as somebody who didn’t believe these policies were electorally viable, and rejected outright any strategy to raise turnout particularly among the young, is to humbly and quietly do what I can to support my party. But hubris would be unwise. I always believed that a big mistake Blair and his supporters made was crushing dissent within the party, and casting his policies and his outlook as the be all and end all of the Labour Party. And yes, I believe that supporters of Corbyn are also wrong to suggest that there is only the leader’s vision or nothing. These Khmer Rouge-esque Year Zero approaches do not create the conditions for a sustainable, vibrant, democratic politics. So to those who unquestioningly stuck by Jeremy, more credit to you, now lets come together.

Polling Observatory campaign report #4: Unexpected but not unusual twists and turns in the campaign polls

DipticBy The Polling Observatory (Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien). You can read more posts by The Polling Observatory here.


This post is part of a long-running series (dating to before the 2010 election) that reports on the state of the parties as measured by vote intention polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates can be found here and here.

The general election is now just two days away, after a campaign that has defied pundits’ expectations of a walkover for Theresa May’s Conservatives, and seen both surprises and tragic events along the way. While the pollsters will likely deliver their final verdict on what voters are saying tomorrow, the Polling Observatory brings you its final roundup of the polls – as they stood up to Sunday night. We may yet see a late swing from the voters, as the choice between the parties becomes clearer in their minds. As such, our estimates remain ‘a snapshot, and not a prediction’.

In the main, there has been little change from the trends that we reported last week: the Conservatives retain a substantial lead in the polls, though are down from 44.5% to 43.8%, while Labour’s resurgence continues – now on 36.8%, up from 35.5% last week. Consequently, what was a 9-point gap (averaged across the pollsters) is now a 7-point gap. However, the change is within the error of most polls and there is considerable variation in the size of leads that pollsters are showing – in part due to the different turnout adjustments being applied. Based on the range of pollsters’ headline figures, the projected results include anything between a hung parliament and a Conservative landslide, hardly providing clarity on matters. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Greens continue to endure a miserable campaign. Current trends suggest that the big two parties will be more politically dominant in this election than at any time for a generation.

UK 04-06-17 anchor on average

The upturn in Labour’s support has led some to suggest this is the biggest shift in the polls during an election campaign since 1945. It is not entirely without precedent, though. In 2010, the surge in Liberal Democrat support following Nick Clegg’s highly effective performance on the first ever television debate – “Cleggmania” – was of similar scale to Labour’s gains in the polls in the 2017 election (around 10-points). That shift in the polls occurred over the course of just seven days, whereas during this campaign Labour’s poll numbers have risen steadily over a six week period. Some of the Liberal Democrats’ gains in the polls after the 2010 debate dissipated in the subsequent weeks of the campaign, and most of the remaining effects vanished by the time people voted. This is shown below, where the blue, red and yellow markers indicate the actual election result for each of the parties in 2010 – with the orange line notably ending well above the orange circle indicating the result. In contrast, the trends in party support during the 2017 campaign have been more gradual – with no sharp upticks or downticks for either the Conservatives or Labour. This may suggest there is less risk of pollsters’ overshooting in measuring the Labour surge, but only time will tell whether this is the case.

2010

2017

It is also possible to verify this claim historically based on the observed variance in all polls conducted over the campaign. For this, we use 574 polls conducted during the last thirty days of the campaign, for all elections between 1959 and 2017. The results are shown in the table below. What is striking from this analysis is that the variance of Labour’s poll numbers has been high by historical standards, but is still less volatile than the Liberal Democrats’ polling in 2010, 1983 or February 1974 or Labour’s polling in 2001 or 1983. The mean variance in the polls across the three parties is also not that much above the historical average (5.6 compared to 4.9). While 2017 has been a surprising and eventful campaign, it does not differ that much from past elections in terms of variability of the polls. Indeed, it is apparent from the table that the 2015 campaign was quite anomalous in the stability of the polls, which may be influencing our perceptions of how volatile polls can be during UK elections.

Variance in all polls  
Election Conservatives Labour Liberals/SDP/Liberal Democrats Mean N of polls
1959 3.70 2.89 1.85 2.81 10
1964 1.03 1.34 0.77 1.05 6
1966 0.78 1.32 0.28 0.79 6
1970 4.12 1.50 1.56 2.39 8
1974 (Feb) 4.98 7.07 13.94 8.67 12
1974 (Oct) 4.70 3.92 2.59 3.74 29
1979 11.69 5.73 5.49 7.64 24
1983 4.99 11.13 14.53 10.22 50
1987 2.16 4.31 5.00 3.82 32
1992 2.68 2.39 4.84 3.30 54
1997 4.19 8.80 5.43 6.14 39
2001 3.04 10.86 5.28 6.39 30
2005 4.28 3.17 1.91 3.12 58
2010 5.92 4.91 20.40 10.41 88
2015 2.10 2.29 1.08 1.82 82
2017 5.42 10.08 1.33 5.61 46

Much commentary already seems to be preparing for another polling miss after the experiences of 2015 and 2016. Certainly, with current polling showing Conservative leads ranging from 1% to 12% someone will be substantially wrong (and someone should be right). The lack of consensus in the polls provides an important reminder, though, that surveying the public on their voting intentions is a hard business at the best of times – and this task is made more difficult by the varied geographical picture that may well emerge on election night, with Labour well supported among younger, educated voters in cities and the Conservatives making gains in regions and towns where once ‘working class Tories’ of the 1980s are being drawn to the leadership of Theresa May in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. It is possible that Labour will end up with the highest vote share since 2005 or even 2001, but the lowest number of seats since 1935. In the British “first past the post” system, it is not just how many votes a party gets which counts, but where they are cast. The geography of Labour and Conservative support could be just as important as their overall popularity, but at present it is receiving much less attention.

 

Robert FordWill JenningsMark Pickup and Christopher Wlezien