The culture war in Europe and North America pits cosmopolitan, college-educated, urban voters with liberal views against inward-looking, often lower-information voters in small towns and the countryside who resist change.
Macron is a former investment banker who styles himself as a liberal champion of the European Union. Salvini, the leader of Italy’s far-right League party, has emerged as Europe’s leading nationalist — one who has pledged to bring the European project to a crashing halt.
Ronald Brownstein writes in The Atlantic that Republicans in his country have become a “coalition of restoration”: older, blue-collar, evangelical and non-urban whites most uneasy about the tectonic cultural and economic forces reshaping American life. Republican lawmakers represent those areas with the most guns and the fewest immigrants.
Democrats, by contrast, rely on a heavily urbanized “coalition of transformation”: minorities, millennials and college-educated and secular white voters, especially women. Democratic voters have fewer guns and live in places with more immigrants.
George Eaton argues in Britain’s New Statesman that age has replaced class as the nation’s best predictor of voting intentions.
Middle-class support for Labour and working-class support for the Conservatives rose in the last election. At the same time, the left attracted almost two-thirds of the youth vote and the right the support of almost two in three pensioners.
I believe that to shrink the culture gap in Western democracies — between generally well-educated “globalists” and those who feel left behind — we need a new social compact.
The twentieth century’s was built on strong trade unions, lifetime employment and health and pension benefits tied to salaried jobs. The economy, and people’s expectations, have changed in such a way that this is no longer sustainable. But we haven’t come up with a replacement yet.
I used to think that the rise of far-right populism, the crisis of social democracy and growing divides along class and educational lines were creating a new political reality in the West.
In a 2016 report for the consultancy Wikistrat, I argued that the political spectrum was shifting from left-right to cosmopolitan-nationalist.
Others made similar observations:
Andrew Sullivan observed in 2014 that America’s blue-red culture war had come to Europe: “Blue Europe is internationalist, globalized, metrosexual, secular, modern, multicultural. Red Europe is noninterventionist, patriotic, more traditional, more sympathetic to faith, more comfortable in a homogeneous society.”
Stephan Shakespeare, a British pollsters, argued a year later that people were either “drawbridge up” or “drawbridge down”.
The Economist characterized the divide as between open and closed: “Welcome immigrants or keep them out? Open up to foreign trade or protect domestic industries? Embrace cultural change or resist it?”
David Goodhart divided people into “anywheres” — mobile and open-minded — and “somewheres” — attached to country, community and family.
Europeans can be sorted into six “tribes”, argues Chatham House based on a survey of public opinion in ten different countries:
Hesitant Europeans: The largest group (36 percent), they sit in the middle on many issues but tend to vote center-right. They are ambivalent about the EU and worry about high immigration.
Contented Europeans: Often young, socially liberal and unperturbed about immigration, this group (23 percent) is happy with the way things are. They want neither a federal Europe nor disintegration. Many young Central Europeans fall in this category.
EU Rejecters: Feel the EU is undemocratic and are angry that politicians aren’t doing enough to stop immigration. This group (14 percent) is disproportionately rural and overrepresented in Austria and the United Kingdom.
Frustrated Pro-Europeans: Want closer EU integration driven by “progressive values” but don’t themselves feel the benefits of membership. Relatively many Belgians, French and Italians are in this group (9 percent).
Austerity Rebels: Want a looser, “more democratic” EU, but — unlike EU Rejecters — do believe wealthy member states should help out the poor. This group (9 percent) is generally middle-aged, possibly unemployed and likely to live in Greece or Italy.
The votes for Brexit, European populism and Donald Trump weren’t working-class revolts.
Ta-Nehisi Coates and Adam Serwer have argued that mostly-white elites are drawn to the “economic anxiety” thesis because it absolves them of responsibility for more intractable problems, like racism, xenophobia and self-delusions about both.
If nativists are motivated by stagnating wages, then there are policy solutions for bringing them back into the mainstream.