Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC
Photo by Gage Skidmore, Flickr CC

As the election edges ever closer, the question of how support for such a polarizing figure like Donald Trump even became possible is on many people’s minds.

An article in The New Yorker examines sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild’s new book “Strangers in their Own Land,” for answers to this Trump phenomenon. Hochschild set out to understand the emotional root of the Tea Party movement and the Trump euphoria. Hochschild spent five years conducting research in rural parts of Southern Louisiana, where the vast majority of the population are poor, uneducated, and white.  She found that Tea Party supporters often described American society with a single narrative of “cheaters” and individuals who “do not want to work.” The New Yorker describes this narrative, below:

“The line-cutters were African-Americans, promoted by affirmative action, she writes, but also ‘women, immigrants, refugees, public-sector workers—where will it end? Your money is running through a liberal sympathy sieve you don’t control or agree with.'”

Hochschild writes that Trump fuels this perspective, shaming “virtually every line-cutting group” as people who are just eating away at government handouts, but then failing to mention that blue-collar white men benefit from food stamps and Medicaid. 

“‘In this feint’—by making it seem that white people who accept welfare are only taking advantage of what everyone else gets—’Trump solves a white male problem of pride.'”

Photo by Sudanshu Goyal, Flickr CC
Photo by Sudanshu Goyal, Flickr CC

While the gender gap in time spent on household chores is slowly declining, ideas about women as the primary caretaker of the home and caregiver for the children is still very present. These ideas in turn influence how men and women feel about parenting. A recent Huffington Post article features a new study that found mothers report more stress and fatigue than fathers. The researchers attribute this to the division of parenting tasks — married mothers are more likely to mange basic childcare tasks and are more likely to be alone with children, while married fathers are more often in charge of children’s play and leisure activities. Moreover, even when moms have leisure time, they are more likely to be interrupted or to report multitasking during this time.

According to sociologist Ann Meier,

“Having data systematically collected from thousands of parents allows us to confirm what parents have known for years — that parenting is meaningful but also stressful and tiring. Many mothers will recognize their experiences of interrupted sleep and daily feeding and bathing. Hopefully, many dads will see that their partners will likely be happier if they trade some of their leisure time with kids for more of the ‘work’ of parenting.”

911 Call Center in Seattle. Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives, Flickr CC
911 Call Center in Seattle. Photo by Seattle Municipal Archives, Flickr CC

The relationship between communities and police officers is getting an increasing amount of attention, particularly the effect police violence has on communities. The Atlantic recently reported on a new study by sociologists Matthew Desmond, Andrew Papachristos, and David Kirk that explores how trust in the police often decreases after a community experiences police violence. After analyzing 911 calls made in Milwaukee from 2004 to 2010, the researchers found that instances of police violence had an impact on the number of 911 calls being placed.

The study began after the highly publicized beating of Frank Jude by police officers in Milwaukee in 2004, after which the authors found that 22,000 fewer calls were placed to 911. They discovered a similar pattern following the killing of Sean Bell in Queens, New York in 2006, and the assault of Danyall Simpson in Milwaukee in 2007. The researchers concluded that instances of police violence, both locally and nationally, have lasting effects on African American communities as whole. David Kirk says,

“Once the story of Frank Jude’s beating appeared in the press, Milwaukee residents, especially people in black neighborhoods, were less likely to call the police, including to report violent crime. This means that publicized cases of police violence can have a community-wide impact on crime reporting that transcends individual encounters.”

Papachristos added in a statement,

“Police departments and city politicians often frame a publicized case of police violence as an ‘isolated incident’ … No act of police violence is an isolated incident, in both cause and consequence. Seemingly isolated incidents of police violence are layered upon a history of unequal policing in cities.”

Photo by meesh, Flickr CC
Photo by meesh, Flickr CC

America has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, and it is important to consider the long-lasting impacts that the criminal justice system can have on a person. This goes beyond the struggles of life inside or finding a job once they’re free — they can also lose their right to vote. In fact, due to laws which strip voting rights from people with convictions, over six million Americans will not be able to vote this November. This aggregate estimate comes from a new report by our very own Chris Uggen, TSP Editor and University of Minnesota Regents Professor, and his research team (which you can read about at Quartz, New York Times, Yahoo News, Democracy Now!, The Denver Post, Vogue, and others). Uggen explains,

“The message that comes across to them is: Yes, you have all the responsibilities of a citizen now, but you’re basically still a second-class citizen because we are not permitting you to be engaged in the political process.”

Public opinion is mixed on this issue, but people are generally okay if released prisoners within general society are allowed to vote, meaning legislation may be behind the times. In fact, consider that the 2000 election between Bush and Gore ended with a neck-and-neck finish in Florida decided by less than six-hundred votes. Today, Florida has one of the highest rates of felon disenfranchisement, and in 2000, such voters could have decided the race.  

And speaking of “race,” laws which restrict felons from voting are in many ways a black-and-white issue. Because of such legislation, one in thirteen American black adults are not able to vote. As Uggen explains, felon disenfranchisement particularly hurts the African-American vote, a logical conclusion since the criminal justice system is already known to be racially disproportionate. These laws are often defended staunchly, but things may change in the future, and in large part thanks to work like this. 

Photo by Andy Rogers, Flickr CC
Photo by Andy Rogers, Flickr CC

When it comes to looking at patterns of police force, a recent study by sociologist Joscha Legewie notes a relationship brewed from conflict. As described in an article featured in Science Daily, Legewie finds that a pair of fatal shootings of police officers by black suspects in New York lead to an increase in the use of force in subsequent days by police against blacks, but not against whites and Hispanics. Legewie says that this finding,

“…Extends beyond acts of extreme violence against police officers. It suggests a general set of processes where local events create inter-group conflict, foreground stereotypes, and trigger discriminatory responses.”

Legewie stresses,

“Discriminatory behavior arises not only from static conditions but also from temporal sequences of events and responses. This process is applicable to all kinds of everyday interactions, both with the police and with others who might engage in discriminatory behavior, such as landlords or teachers.”

Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann
Photo by Karl-Ludwig Poggemann, Flickr CC

Arlie Russell Hochschild, professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, spent five years in Louisiana to explore why many Americans with lower incomes, in states receiving more government funding than most, embrace politicians pledging to cut that funding. It’s called “the red-state paradox,” and Louisiana is a prime example. It’s one of the poorest states, receives 44% of its funding from the government, and it supported Donald Trump in the primary.

Hochschild recently talked with Wisconsin Public Radio, detailing her findings that, for many Louisiana conservatives, policies bringing the disadvantaged forward often make them feel like they are being pushed back. Hochschild uses a metaphor of waiting in a long line winding up a steep hill, saying,

“You have worked your butt off. And you’re waiting in line for this American dream, and you notice suddenly that somebody is butting in front.”

Those who are suspicious of government policies like affirmative action see minorities, women, immigrants, and refugees as being permitted to cut in line by President Obama himself. For someone in an impoverished state, sending their children to some of the worst schools in the nation, and facing an incredibly low life expectancy, this doesn’t look like progress. The government is not seen as their ally, nor are the folks calling them “uneducated ignorant southerners” when they protest. Listening to their real stories, rather than leaning on such stereotypes, is how Hochschild crosses an “empathy bridge” in order to understand those supporting the controversial candidate.

Photo by Kayla Kandzorra, Flickr CC
Photo by Kayla Kandzorra, Flickr CC

Professors of sociology often struggle to introduce sociological concepts in new and thought-provoking ways to their students. According to a recent article in Bowling Green Daily News, Professor Bertena Varney is tackling this issue in an unconventional way and using the Harry Potter series to engage her students with various sociological topics. In her “Inequality in Society” class at Southern Kentucky Community and Technological College, Varney sorts students into the houses of Hogwarts and each day a specific house leads class discussion on social issues. For example, the students apply the Harry Potter terminology of “muggles” and “squibs” to a discussion of the disabled and mentally challenged.

Not only do the students use Harry Potter to understand concepts, but they also engage in community service, tutoring, and social media in order to compete for the house cup, which awards the winning house fifty points of extra credit at the end of the semester. Varney also views this immersion structure as providing students with future skills outside of the classroom, saying:

“Once you get them thinking about other people besides themselves, they take off. It teaches them a lot of social skills and problem solving … [and] it’s easier for students to find out how they can work together to make the world a better place. ”

When professors use magical teaching methods like Varney, students are so entranced by the material that anti-cheating spells are no longer necessary!  

Photo by swong95765, Flickr CC
Photo by swong95765, Flickr CC

The Atlantic recently reported that Oregon has a higher proportion of families on welfare than any other state in the U.S. With high food-stamp consumption, subsidizing, healthcare, and extended time limits, Oregon has dedicated itself to a relatively robust and available social security net. So what explains Oregon’s generosity in the face of safety net rollback in other states?

The Atlantic cites research from social scientists Joe Soss, Richard C. Fording, and Sanford F. Schram who show that democratic control of the legislature, as well as higher state wages relative to welfare benefits, are key predictors of the size of a state’s social welfare net. Soss and colleagues also write how state’s with a higher percentage of minority group members receiving welfare also tend to be more punitive overall. Oregon, who is 86.6 percent white, has a relatively high minimum wage, and a historically blue voting state, fits nicely with Soss and colleagues’ analysis of state-level welfare spending and policy. As described by the article,

“The case of Oregon highlights what can happen when federal programs are turned over to the states: They help some Americans more than others, depending on where people live, and, often, depending on the color of their skin.”

Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC
Photo by verkeorg, Flickr CC

We tend to think of the world wide web as a place of equal opportunity, granted everyone has access to it. But NYU’s At A Glance recently covered Charlton McIlwain’s new study that reveals how systemic racial inequality forms and operates on the internet. The study looks beyond lone bigots who make racist comments and analyzes how site traffic steers users to certain kinds of pages. People who visit non-racial sites tend to visit other non-racial sites, more than just by chance, while those who browse pages with race-specific content find themselves jumping to other race-specific sites. McIlwain says,

“The evidence suggests a tendency toward racially segregated site navigation. Web producers seem to build pathways providing equitable access to sites, without concern for the racial nature of the site.”

While segregation may not be the intention of site builders, user’s personal preferences and search engines intervene to influence how web surfers get from point A to point B.  

“These results, along with disparities in website traffic rankings, show how a race-based hierarchy might systematically emerge on the web in ways that exemplify disparate forms of value, influence, and power that exist within the web environment.”

Photo from the 2013 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, by Ryan Somma via
Photo from the 2013 Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, DC, by Ryan Somma via

Over the course of the primary season and the beginnings of the general election, there has been a lot of inflammatory rhetoric surrounding Islam in America, mostly propelled by politicians on the political Right such as Donald Trump. Such shifts in political discussion can often have a ripple effect, and as described in an article by Vox, even the narratives and language used by politicians on the left begin moving in this direction. With help from sociology professors of Erik Love of Dickinson College, Charles Kurzman of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Neda Maghbouleh of University of Toronto, we get an inside look at how discussion surrounding American Muslims takes on problematic features.

As Islamophobic arguments move through the airways, it changes the dominant ideas about judging the “line” in political discussions. For example, alongside more extreme comments made by politicians like Newt Gingrich, Hillary Clinton’s discussion of “peace-loving Muslims” becomes a more acceptable norm. However, these narratives still function at the core by suggesting that Muslim and American identity are incompatible, or that American Muslims are unduly obligated to earn their right to respect and safety. Consider research described in the article below:

“[F]ocus groups with Muslim American communities show that Clinton’s comments also “resonate poorly,” Charles Kurzman, a University of North Carolina sociology professor, said.

“When [Clinton] frames the choices this way, it means that for Muslims to be ‘good’ and worthy cultural and political citizens of America, they have to pledge fealty to the same law enforcement, media, and politicians that have been surveilling, jailing, and abusing them based on their names, their faith, and their physical appearances.”

The Vox article is quick to point out that Hillary Clinton hasn’t always made problematic statements regarding Islam, nor is this shift in rhetoric limited to her or to this presidential race. Rather, it seems likely that as inflammatory rhetoric targeted at Muslims continues, it simply normalizes problematic, unfair characterizations and opens the door to exclusionary attitudes.