IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Unemployment, Immigration, and Populism: Evidence from Two Quasi-Natural Experiments in the United States


  • Chen, Shuai


This paper examines how economic insecurity and cultural anxiety have triggered different dimensions of the current populism in the United States. Specifically, I exploit two quasi-natural experiments, the Great Recession and the 2014 Northern Triangle immigrant in ux, to investigate the effects of unemployment and unauthorized 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 15 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 more likely led to the over 10 percentage points rise in 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 associated with 40 percentage points higher likelihood of supporting left-wing populist Bernie Sanders, while cohorts residing in regions most intensely impacted by the immigrant in ux were associated with 10 percentage points higher possibility to vote for right-wing populist Donald Trump. This study attempts to link distinct economic and cultural driving forces to different types of populism and to contribute to the understanding on the potential interactions of the economic and cultural triggers of the currently surging populism.

Suggested Citation

  • Chen, Shuai, 2020. "Unemployment, Immigration, and Populism: Evidence from Two Quasi-Natural Experiments in the United States," GLO Discussion Paper Series 652, Global Labor Organization (GLO).
  • Handle: RePEc:zbw:glodps:652

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    More about this item


    Populism; Unemployment; Immigration; Great Recession; Voting;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • J01 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General - - - Labor Economics: General
    • J64 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Mobility, Unemployment, Vacancies, and Immigrant Workers - - - Unemployment: Models, Duration, Incidence, and Job Search
    • P16 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - Political Economy of Capitalism


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:zbw:glodps:652. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.