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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The New Populism Continued: 3rd in a Series

Today's Topic 

Once again at Carpe Diem, a good economics web site run by Professor Mark Perry of the University of Michigan, the buggy prof set out a lengthy commentary in reply to one of Perry's posts . . . that commentary continuing the bugged-out take on the new economic populism in American life.  Click here for the buggy view (and that of others). 

It would be useful, maybe indispensable, to have read the previous two buggy posts left here, along with links to the Carpe Diem threads, on this fascinating resurgence of American populism.  Like all its predecessors that stretch back to the Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, it is fed by a widespread sense of backlash worry and disquietude, caused by what more and more Americans believe are both economic and political systems out of tune with the needs and concerns of average American workers and --- along with this --- a snowballing sentiment that the two systems are rigged, run mainly by financial manipulators, business cheaters, and callous politicians beholden to powerful special interest groups. 

This growing disenchantment and backlash sense of unfairness are reflected in  numerous opinion surveys.  For a year now, 80% of Americans have repeatedly said that their find our country is on the wrong track.  More recently, this week, a New York Times survey found that 80% of Americans --- a striking correlated percentage! --- believe that our economy is operating very badly or fairly badly.

The Political Uncertainties That Linger Over the Forthcoming November Elections

What remains unclear right now is whether the new populism will lead to the Obama-Biden ticket winning the presidential race. If there is uncertainty here --- captured by public opinion surveys of potential voters that show a neck-and-neck race between that ticket and the Republicans' --- it's largely because there are cross-cutting tendencies among a fairly large sector of the white working class. 

For three decades now, going back to the Reagan era --- and maybe to the "silent majority" of the Nixon period a decade earlier --- white working class voters have voted in large numbers for Republican presidential and Congressional candidates, with five of the last 7 administrations dominated by Republican winners.  And the main reason seems to be socio-cultural populism . . . a powerful backlash mood provoked by their growing sense of disgust with the dominant liberal social and cultural themes that have prevailed within the Democratic Party since 1972. 

No need to elaborate on those themes here.  The big question is --- will growing economic disenchantment among white working and lower-middle class voters pull them in the Obama direction, as Hillary Clinton was able to attract them in the spring during the last phases of the Democratic primary process, or will they remain committed to the Republican ticket as a small majority has done since 1980?