Monday, June 7, 2021

Brahmin Left, Merchant Right, Stalled Realignment

With the discrediting of neoliberal economics and the clear openness of electorates in Western democracies to a new economic approach, you'd think a realignment to the left was in the offing. But more than a decade has passed since the Great Recession and it's not happening. That potential realignment is in stall mode.
The fundamental reason is the shift of working class voters out of left parties and the increasing reliance off such parties on highly-educated voters. That has created the stall situation where the left, even when it wins elections, is continually undermined by the bleeding of working class voters. The result is unstable governance that has fallen far short of realignment.
The proximate reason for the bleeding is laid out in rich descriptive detail in a new paper by Thomas Piketty and two colleagues, available on the World Inequality Database website. They finger the emergence of a new "sociocultural" axis of political conflict that has been embraced by right and left parties alike and that has drawn working class voters out of the left and into right and right populist parties.
The contours of this change are quite complex and are laid out in a staggering number of detailed charts in the paper (the paper is 150 pages long but has only 33 pages of text). I recommend the paper strongly, including the many charts. It will repay a close reading and enrich your understanding of our current stalled realignment.
"In this paper, Amory Gethin, Clara Martínez-Toledano and Thomas Piketty provide new evidence on the long-run evolution of political cleavages in 21 Western democracies by exploiting a new database on the vote by socioeconomic characteristic covering over 300 elections held between 1948 and 2020. In the 1950s-1960s, the vote for democratic, labor, social democratic, socialist, and affiliated parties was associated with lower-educated and low-income voters. It has gradually become associated with higher-educated voters, giving rise to “multi-elite party systems” in the 2000s-2010s: high-education elites now vote for the “left”, while high-income elites continue to vote for the “right”. Combining their database with historical data on political parties’ programs, the authors provide evidence that the reversal of the educational cleavage is strongly linked to the emergence of a new “sociocultural” axis of political conflict.
*In the 1950s-1960s, Western party systems were “class-based”, in the sense that low-income and lower-educated voters were significantly more likely to vote for social democratic and affiliated parties, while high-income and higher-educated voters were more likely to vote for conservative and affiliated parties.
* These party systems have gradually become “multi-elite party systems”, in which high-education elites now vote for the “left”, while high-income elites continue to vote for the “right”.
* This transition has been accelerated by the rise of green and anti-immigration movements, whose key distinctive feature is to concentrate the votes of the higher-educated and lower-educated electorate, respectively.
* The reversal of the educational cleavage is strongly linked to the rising salience of a new “sociocultural” dimension of political conflict: between the 1950s and today, parties emphasizing socially “liberal” issues have concentrated a growing share of the higher-educated electorate, while those emphasizing “conservative” issues have seen their electorate become more concentrated among lower-educated voters.
* The paper also discusses the evolution of other political cleavages related to age, geography, religion, gender, and the integration of new ethnoreligious minorities."

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