Unemployment, Immigration, and Populism: Evidence from Two Quasi-Natural Experiments in the United States
KD2Lab team room, building 01.85
February, 13th 2019
University of Tilburg
This paper examines how economic insecurity and cultural anxiety have triggered the current populism in the United States. Specifically, I exploit two quasi-natural experiments, the Great Recession and the 2014 immigration crisis, to investigate the causal effects of unemployment and immigration on attitudes related to populism and populist voting in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. I discover that recent unemployment during the Great Recession, rather than existing unemployment from before the recession, increased the probability of attitudes forming against wealthy elites by more than 14 percentage points. Such attitudes are connected with left-wing populism. I identify perceived economic unfairness as a mechanism through which recent unemployment drove left-wing populism. However, cultural anxiety rather than economic insecurity escalated by more than 12 percentage points the probability of anti-immigration attitudes developing. These attitudes are related to right-wing populism. Furthermore, I obtain evidence that cohorts economically suffering the aftermath of the Great Recession were 42% more inclined to support left-wing populist Bernie Sanders, while cohorts residing in regions most intensely impacted by the immigration crisis were 10% more likely to vote for right-wing populist Donald Trump. My study disentangles economic insecurity from cultural anxiety and links each of them to a different type of populism.