Explaining the Trump Victory: Populist Sentiments and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Explaining the Trump Victory:
Populist Sentiments and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election
Deirdre Tinney and Stephen Quinlan

As the world peers into the crystal ball era of Brexit and President Trump, it has become clear that we need to talk about populism. These days, parties and politicians articulating what are regarded as populist views are to be found in established democracies globally. A vexing question however is do so-called populist sentiments shape vote choice? The Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES) has responded with Module 5, which examines ‘citizens’ attitudes towards political elites, majority rule and out-groups in representative democracy’ as a priority. It runs from 2016 to 2021 inclusive and will be fielded in more than 40 countries. Data from countries that have fielded Module 5 are slowly becoming available. Using the CSES Module 5 component included in the Irish National Election Study (Marsh et al. 2016), we showed that some populist attitudes did motivate vote choice in the 2016 general election in Ireland. Here, we take advantage of the American National Election Study’s (ANES) 2016 data that included CSES Module 5, to focus on what impact populist sentiments had on Donald Trump’s victory.

Populism is ‘an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups…[and that] politics should be an expression of the volonté générale of the people’ (Mudde 2004). Arguments that the political elite is incompetent and/or corrupt; that a ‘great leader’ is needed to sweep all the problems aside; and that immigrants should ‘go home’ and leave the ‘worthy’ people to enjoy their existence in peace, are typical of what is referred to as populism. However, ‘chameleon-like’ variation exists across countries, and some question whether populism constitutes an ideology at all (Aslanidis 2016).

Donald Trump’s campaign ticked many so-called ‘populist’ boxes.  His descent by escalator in Trump Tower, New York, at his campaign launch in 2015, was accompanied by the pulse of a powerful rock anthem, with lyrics reaching out to the marginalized.[1]  The themes of his campaign were clear. Other countries dumped their problems on America. Career politicians were the incompetent puppets of wily lobbyists. A wall must be built to stop immigrant Mexicans, who were mostly ‘criminals’ and ‘rapists’. As the campaign progressed, these themes were extended. Republican opponent Jeb Bush was rebuked for campaigning in Spanish instead of insisting that immigrants should speak English.  Muslims came in for ire. Calls to drain the swamp’, and slurs about ‘crooked Hillary’ showed great sticking power. The message was crystal clear: America was broken, needed to be made Great Again, and Mr. Trump cast himself as the saviour-in-waiting of the people. The question is whether such sentiments influenced American voters to support Donald Trump? Continue reading “Explaining the Trump Victory: Populist Sentiments and the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election”

New CSES Country Spotlight: Argentina

In the New CSES Country Spotlight series, collaborators from an election study including CSES for the first time discuss its electoral context and the significance of running CSES in the country.

New CSES Country Spotlight: Argentina
Noam Lupu, Virginia Oliveros and Luis Schiumerini

Most of what we know about voting behavior is informed by the experience of advanced democracies. The electoral context in developing democracies, however, is significantly different. Civil society is often weak, poverty and inequality high, political parties ephemeral and attachments to them weak, corruption rampant, and clientelism widespread. We cannot hope to understand how politics in these consolidating democracies unfolds without understanding how voters determine who governs. And we cannot assume that what we know about voters in advanced democracies applies universally to developing ones. Rather, we should take our assumptions and expectations to data.

In order to do just that, we fielded the 2015 Argentine Panel Election Study (APES) that includes The Comparative Study of Electoral Studies (CSES) Module 4. Our study incorporates Argentina into the CSES for the first time, becoming the sixth Latin American democracy in the sample. APES is both the first academic panel survey and the first academic election study ever conducted in Argentina. And it joins Brazil and Mexico as the only countries in Latin America where academic panel surveys have been fielded.

The APES consists of two face-to-face waves of interviews, the first between June 24, 2015 and August 7, 2015, and the second between November 21, 2015 and December 30, 2015. The first wave was based on a nationally representative sample of Argentine voters living in cities of 10,000 inhabitants and more, while the second wave consisted of a panel sample of those wave 1 respondents that agreed to participate again, plus a refresh sample. The first wave of the APES relied on a national household sample of 1,149 Argentine citizens aged 18 years and over. The general design was a stratified multistage cluster sample. The panel design implied that we attempted to re-contact all respondents from wave 1. Our success rate was 68% (780 out of 1,149 original respondents). To compensate for sample attrition, we drew a refresh sample of 626 respondents, selected according to the same procedures described above for wave 1. The wave 2 sample therefore has a sample size of 1,406. Continue reading “New CSES Country Spotlight: Argentina”