Monday, March 27, 2017

Backwards-Focused and Angry: Parallels Between Trump Voters and One Nation Voters in Australia

Yesterday, The Guardian published an excerpt from an essay written by David Marr for the Australian journal Quarterly Essay, entitled "The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race." The Guardian's excerpt is called "Looking Back, and Angry: What Drives Pauline Hanson's Voters." Marr's commentary on what's driving Australian One Nation voters is fascinating, because of the clear parallels between what he discovers and what has also been noted regarding Trump voters in the U.S. As Nate Silver has found, educational levels and not income levels predicted who voted for Trump. College graduates voted for Hillary by a 9-point margin, while those without college education voted for Trump 52%-44%, by far the largest gap between college- and non-college-educated voters in exit polls since before 1980.

Regarding One Nation voters, Marr states,

Then and now, the figures show the typical One Nation voter didn't finish school. Yet they are not unqualified. They make an effort. Tradespeople are strongly represented in party ranks. But eight out of 10 have never set foot on a university campus. . . . 
Education is the clearest link between Hanson, Trump and Brexit. Surveys here, in the United States and in the United Kingdom all point to education as a key component of political dissatisfaction. In the UK, Matthew Goodwin and Oliver Heath found "educational inequality" was the strongest driver of Brexit. In the US, Nate Silver concluded, "The education gap is carving up the American electorate and toppling political coalitions that had been in place for many years."
That about eight out of 10 One Nation voters dropped out of school doesn't mark them as dumb. Queensland, the party's heartland, made it extraordinarily hard for a long time for poor kids to get to university. But for whatever reason, few of Hanson's people have been exposed to life and learning on a campus. [Social researcher Rebecca] Huntley wonders if "the persistent attachment to clearly illogical connections between, say, asylum seekers and crimewaves, and also the interest in non-official online content, is because they never had at least some exposure to what happens at higher education." What strikes her in focus groups is the One Nation attitude: "I can work this all out by myself."

So there's that correlation: as in the U.S. with Trump supporters, many One Nation supporters are affluent, have good, reliable jobs, make secure incomes — but have low levels of educational attainment that set them apart from those who do not support the One Nation or the Trump ideology.

And then there's the nostalgia correlation: as Robert P. Jones found in his book The End of White Christian America (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016), the type of voters who elected Donald Trump — notably, the 8 in 10 white evangelicals and 6 in 10 white Catholics who voted for him — are deeply nostalgic for a past they imagine existed not too long ago, in which they had unchallenged control of "their" society. Jones notes that Public Religion Research Institute surveyed Americans in 2015 to ask, "Since the 1950s, do you think American culture and way of life has mostly changed for the better, or has it mostly changed for the worse?" 

Then he states,

The question of whether American culture has gone downhill since the 1950s divides Americans overall, with a majority (53 percent) saying it has changed mostly for the worse, compared to 46 percent who say it has changed mostly for the better. But we can see stark cleavages by race and religion. More than seven in ten (72) percent white evangelical Protestants and nearly six in ten (58 percent) white mainline Protestants say American culture and way of life has changed for the worse since the 1950s. Roughly six in ten white Catholics (58 percent) agree with their fellow white Christians that American culture has changed for the worse since the 1950s. 
Meanwhile, approximately six in ten Hispanic Catholics (59 percent) say the opposite – that American culture has changed for the better. Approximately six in ten (63 percent) religiously unaffiliated Americans also say American culture and way of life has changed for the better since the mid-twentieth century, as do majorities of African American Protestants (55 percent). Overall, the pattern is unambiguous: most white Christians – along with groups in which they constitute a majority, like the Tea Party – believe that America is on a downhill slide, while strong majorities of most other groups in the country say things are improving (pp. 86-87).

David Marr finds a remarkably similar viewpoint strongly represented among One Nation voters in Australia. As he states, 

The exaggerated gloom of One Nation voters in the 2016 election goes to something deeper than the economy. One Nation is the nostalgia party. "Simply addressing economic inequality – which is what the left has tried to do – is just not sufficient," says Huntley. "Prosperity is important, but what worries this group is the cultural, social slippage they feel in their life. They imagine their fathers' and grandfathers' lives were better, more certain, easier to navigate. Maybe they were and maybe they weren't, but it’s the loss of that that is worrying for them. The economic argument alone isn't persuasive for them.

And: "Huntley is struck by the links between One Nation's two agendas: law and order, and immigration." Talk to One Nation voters about what drives them, she suggests, and you'll very quickly hear stories like this: 

"Once upon a time you could leave your door open," or, "You could go to the pub and put your wallet next to your beer and go to the loo and you’d be surrounded by people just like you, people who would never even think to touch your wallet. But now you can't do that." A discussion about asylum seekers and immigration will slip very quickly into that sort of talk. There's a really intense nexus between law and order and immigration in that group.

Huntley says that if you ask the average Australian if they'd like to go back to the 1950s as the ideal time, they'll retreat from that choice — even if they've just been expressing nostalgia about an imagined past in which everything was hunky-dory. The One Nation voters, by contrast: 

But the One Nation group is genuinely nostalgic. They will genuinely say, "Yes, I want to go back to that time." How far back? To the young adulthood of their fathers, which they imagine wasn’t so long ago. And they wonder if so much that’s happened since couldn’t be unravelled.

Low educational levels coupled with nostalgia about an imagined past in which "we" were the "good" people, in control of things, with no one — especially those pesky immigrants — giving us a run for our money, and added to that a determination to "unravel" what has happened since the 1950s and to attack government to make that unraveling happen: these are powerful parallels between a race-centered right-wing anti-immigration movement in Australia and Trump voters in the U.S.

I find the fixation on the 1950s as Utopia especially fascinating, since I was born in 1950 and grew up in the 1950s — and I have no recollection of having come of age in Utopia. In the world in which I grew up, black people were kept decisively in "their place" and were denied rights everyone else had; women were expected to spend their days in Betty Crocker kitchens cooking fabulous delights for their hard-working bread-winning husbands, smiling madly all the while as loads of children played about their feet; and gay folks? What were they? They didn't exist.

I frequently read commentary by young folks at social media sites about how marvelous the 1950s were, how idyllic they were — commentary by young folks who did not, as I myself did, grow up in the 1950s, and whose understanding of what that decade was about appears to be filtered through some strange, rosy distorting lens inaccessible to most of us. As I read this commentary and think about those driving the nostalgia analysis in many societies today, what seems so obvious to me is this: the 1960s were a watershed decade for civil rights in much of the world.

In that decade, people of color began gaining rights long denied to them in many societies. Women followed suit, the movement for rights for people of color having put wind in the sails of women seeking rights. Then LGBT people began clamoring for rights.

Those nostalgic for the 1950s want to revoke the 1960s, in particular. They want to revoke movements for rights for minority groups that have reshaped many societies since the 1960s. It's that, quite specifically, that they want to "unravel." And without better education to help these backwards-focused, angry, racially energized voters to see that they are focusing their rage on the wrong people altogether, if they want better lives for themselves and others, I'm not sure we're going to get very far down the road to healthier democracies.

The graphic is a chart from PRRI's report on the divide over America's future published in October 2016.

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