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Populism Reaches Its Zenith

The populist right is riding high—for now.

Unfortunately for them, world demographics are stacked against them. And demographics—like the tides of history—are unstoppable.

Let’s start with a look at the average Trump voter, whose profile, you might be surprised to know is largely mirrored across the populist right throughout the Western world.

According to all the research, the average Trump supporter is over 50, White, lives in a semi-rural to rural setting and is not college educated.

Age is the first factor, and the fact is that conservative views and wrinkles go hand in hand. As we age we are all guilty of clinging to old certainties through rose-tinted spectacles that look only to the past. Why would the older generation be future-oriented when they are painfully aware that the only major event in their future is that second inevitable fact of life—death.

The Baby Boomers have ruled for 50 years. In their youth they led the sexual and political revolution. In their 40s and 50s their business acumen peaked and sent profits soaring. But now they are heading for the final exit and the map of the national demographic is shifting from the baby boomer bulge to a more even distribution across all ages.

White. Well, it depends on your definition of White, but in American political terms it generally means of European descent. In the 2010 US census 63.7 percent of Americans described themselves as White and of European descent. However, generally speaking, White American women are not keen on large families. On average each woman has 1.84 children which is well below the number required to replace yourself in the demographic firmament.

Non-White – which includes African-Americans, Hispanics, native Americans and Asians— go for the larger families. On average a non-white American woman has 2.3 children, which is more than enough to replace yourself and then some. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the result is that even without immigration, the non-European population of the United States is set to overtake the Europeans some time around 2050—if not before.

Education is also a factor. And the fact is that throughout the Western World more and more people are going for a college degree. In 1970, twenty-two percent of America’s student-age population received college degrees. In 2015 the figure had exploded by nearly 300 percent to 65 percent. There are good reasons for this. The main one being that a college education has become a requirement for surviving in an increasingly complex world.

But college does more than provide its students with work and life skills. It also introduces them to the liberalising influences of new ideas, concepts and people. It encourages them to challenge conservative values in the belief that it is the best way to move society forward.

Everywhere in the world, the countryside is the national repository for traditions and conservative values. There is something about having your life governed by the seasons and working on the land that makes you want to cling to the old ways.

When the United States was founded in 1776, ninety percent of the population worked in farming industries. In 2015, eighty-one percent of the American population were urbanites. And the figure is expected to grow for the foreseeable future at roughly half a percent a year.

This is a worldwide trend. Cities are young people magnets. They are drawn by the prospect of exciting, highly paid careers that stretch their imaginations and abilities. And, let’s be honest, the prospect of easy sex. For many the urban environment is the natural extension of a college education where they can continue to expand their political and social horizons.

So, the demographic deck is stacked against the populist right. They can compromise and search for long term solutions that help all of society. Or they can attempt to reshuffle the deck with a change in the law here, a tightening of immigration policies there and a Supreme Court appointee or two. They can build a political sea wall. It will hold back the tides for a time. But the waves will keep pounding away and eventually the walls will succumb to the forces of demography and democracy.

Tom Arms is the editor of


2 Comments on "Populism Reaches Its Zenith"

  1. Wherever you have more wealthy people than poor people in an electorate then conservatism will still thrive. The average Trump supporter was wealthier than the average Clinton supporter, who also was not college educated by the way. Clinton only did better than Trump in the sub $50,000p/a group. As migrant populations assimilate they generally become wealthier and as they become wealthier their birth rate drops and their voting pattern changes. The Italian American population are a good example of this phenomena, once staunch Democrats, they now split their vote 50/50, once considered “dagoes” who did low paid work they are now solidly middle class and would never be considered anything but white.

    The term populism really needs to be reigned in. I’m with Lionel Shriver on this one who did a piece on Newsnight about why the term is dishonest.

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