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

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  • Chen, Shuai

Abstract

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
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    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

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