Democrats and Republicans are deeply divided. By definition, political parties have differences of opinion. But these divisions have widened. Twenty years ago, your opinions on political issues did not line up the way we have come to expect them. Today, when you find you share an opinion with someone about systemic racism, you’re more likely to have like minds about environmental policies, welfare reform, and how they feel about the poor, gay and lesbian people, immigrants and immigration, and much more. In other words, Democrats and Republicans have become more ideologically consistent in recent history.

A recent Pew Report reported that in 1994, 64% of Republicans were more conservative than the median Democrat on a political values scale. By 2014, 92% of Republicans were more conservative than the median Democrat. Democrats have become more consistently liberal in their political values and Republicans have become more consistently conservative. And this has led to increasing political polarization (see HERE and HERE for smart posts on this process by Lisa Wade and Gwen Sharpe). You can see political polarization happening below.

You might think ideological commitments naturally come in groupings. But there are lots of illogical pairings without natural connections. Why, for instance, should how you feel about school vouchers be related to how you feel about global warming, whether police officers use excessive force against Black Americans, or whether displays of military strength are the best method of ensuring peace?  The four issues are completely separate. But, if your Facebook feed looks anything like mine, knowing someone’s opinion about any one of these issues gives you enough information to feel reasonably confident predicting their opinions about the other three. That’s what ideological consistency looks like.

Consider how this process affects understandings of important systems of social inequality that structure American society. Discrimination is an issue that sociologists have studied in great detail. We know that discrimination exists and plays a fundamental role in the reproduction of all manner of social inequalities. But, people have opinions about various forms of discrimination as well—even if they’re unsupported by research or data. And while you might guess that many Americans’ opinions about one form of discrimination will be predictive of their opinions about other forms, there’s not necessarily a logical reason for that to be true. But it is.

The following chart visualizes the proportions of Americans who say there is “a lot of discrimination” against Black people, gay and lesbian people, immigrants, transgender people, as well as the proportions of Americans who oppose laws requiring transgender people to use bathrooms that correspond to their sex at birth. And you can see how Americans identifying as Democrat and Republican compare.

The majority of Americans understand that social inequalities exist and that discrimination against socially marginalized groups is still a serious problem. By that, I mean that more than half of Americans believe these things to be true. And data support their beliefs. But look at the differences between Democrats’ and Republicans’ opinions about important forms of discrimination in U.S. society. The gap is huge. While just less than 1 in 3 Republicans feels that there is a lot of discrimination against Black people in the U.S., almost 8 in 10 Democrats support that statement. That’s what political polarization looks like. And Pew found that the trend is even more exaggerated among voters.

Republicans and Democrats are not just divided about whether and what to do about forms of social inequality. They’re divided about whether these inequalities exist. And that is an enormous problem.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Flashback Friday.

Monica C. sent along images of a pamphlet, from 1920, warning soldiers of the dangers of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). In the lower right hand corner (close up below), the text warns that “most” “prostitutes (whores) and easy women” “are diseased.” In contrast, in the upper left corner, we see imagery of the pure woman that a man’s good behavior is designed to protect (also below).  “For the sake of your family,” it reads, “learn the truth about venereal diseases.”

The contrast, between those women who give men STIs (prostitutes and easy women) and those who receive them from men (wives) is a reproduction of the virgin/whore dichotomy (women come in only two kinds: good, pure, and worthy of respect and bad, dirty, and deserving of abuse).  It also does a great job of making invisible the fact that women with an STI likely got it from a man and women who have an STI, regardless of how they got one, can give it away.  The men’s role in all this, that is, is erased in favor of demonizing “bad” girls.

See also these great examples of the demonization of the “good time Charlotte” during World War II (skull faces and all) and follow this post to a 1917 film urging Canadian soldiers to refrain from sex with prostitutes (no antibiotics back then, you know).

This post was originally shared in August 2010.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Why did people march on January 21, 2017? As a team of sociologists interested in social movements, we know there are many possible answers to this seemingly simple question.

As a team of sociologists we have developed a multi-method, multi-site research project, Mobilizing Millions: Engendering Protest Across the Globe.* We want to understand why people participate in a march of this scale, at a critical historical juncture in our political landscape. Within weeks of discussion of the first march, there were already “sister” march pages national and internationally. While it is beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of the project findings thus far, the predictability of the racial tensions visible in social media or the role of men, local opportunities and challenges we do offer some early findings.

In the project’s first phase, we had team members on the ground in Washington D.C.; Austin, TX; Boston, MA; Los Angeles, CA; New York, NY; Philadelphia, PA;  Portland, OR; Santa Barbara, CA and St. Louis, MO. We are currently conducting a survey about the motivations and experiences that brought millions of people to the marches worldwide. We recruited respondents from marches in the aforementioned cities, and online. This has resulted in responses from around the world. Our preliminary findings from the observations and survey highlight that 1) there were a range of reasons people attended marches and 2) across and within sites, there were varying experiences of “the” march in any location.

One striking similarity we observed across sites was the limited visible presence of social movement organizations (SMOs). For sure, SMOs became visible in social media leading up to the event (particularly for the DC march). Unlike at social movement gatherings such as the US Social Forum or conservative equivalents, the sheer number of unaffiliated people dwarfed any delegations or representatives from SMOs. Of our almost 60-member nation-wide team across sites only a handful had encountered anyone handing out organizational material, as we would see at other protest. This is perhaps what brought many people to the march—an opportunity to be an individual connecting with other individuals. However, this is an empirical question as is what this means for the future of social movement organizing. We hope others join us in answering.

Second, while the energy was palpable at all of the marches so was the confusion. As various media sources reported, attendance at all sites far exceeded projections, sometimes by 10 times. Consequently, the physical presence of the expanded beyond organizers’ expectations, which in many places required a schedule shifted. At all marches there were points where participants in central areas could not move and most people could not hear scheduled speakers even if they were physically close to a stage.  Across the sites, we also observed how this challenge stimulated different responses. In multiple locations, people gathering spontaneously created their own sub-marches out of excitement as happened in DC when a band started playing on Madison street and people followed. Or, while waiting, waiting participants chanted “march, march.” Still, in many locations, once the official march started, people created sub-marches out of necessity because the pre-planned march route was impassable. When faced with standing for an hour to wait their “turn” to walk or create an alternative, they chose the latter.

Creativity was visible in artistic forms as well. While there were professionally printed signs (and T-shirts), there was a wealth of handmade signs at the marches. As expected, a slew that referenced phrases the president-elect had said noting, for example, “this pussy grabs back.” Yet there was also a range of other signs ranging from simple text to complicated storyboards (see below).

Across sites, we also saw many differences: including which types of organizations sponsored (or “supported” or “ were affiliated with”) that march.

At the Austin, Texas march, marchers’ signs and chants reflected a wide variety of concerns, including women’s reproductive health care, Black Lives Matter, and environmental justice. The emotional tenor was frequently celebratory, though it varied from one point in the march to another across a crowd reported to be more than 40,000. Many speeches at the rally immediately following the march connected the actions of the Texas state legislature–on whose front steps the march began and ended–to the broader national context.

Photo of Austin, TX by Anna Chatillon-Reed.

The Los Angeles March numbers suggest it exceeded DC participation. There was a noticeable presence of signs about immigration and in Spanish, which is not surprising considering the local and state demographics.

Photo of Los Angeles by Fátima Suarez.
Photo of Los Angeles by Fátima Suarez

The Philadelphia, PA march was close to bigger cities of in New York and DC. Some participants noted that due to the location it was  “competing” for marchers.

Philadelphia photo by Alex Kulick.
Philadelphia photo by Alex Kulick.

The Portland, OR protest also exceeded attendance expectations as marchers withstood hours of pouring rain. Holding the “sister” marches on the same day worldwide emphasized the magnitude and assists in building collective identity. Yet it also meant organizers in different locations faced vastly different challenges. Factors such as weather that might not have existed if organizers had been scheduling based solely on local norms and contexts.

Portland photo by Kelsy Kretschmer.
Portland photo by Kelsy Kretschmer.

To help provide a preliminary sense of the motivations and continued engagement of marchers, we examined a sample of the ~40,000 tweets posted over two months. The analysis continues.

In the coming month, we are launching a separate survey to better understand a group social movement scholars are sometimes less inclined to study: people who do not participate in marches on January 21 (there are exceptions to this of course). As social movement scholars know, mobilization is actually a rare occurrence when we consider the range of grievances present in any society at any given moment. For a second phase of the project, we will conduct interviews with select survey participants.

Understanding the range of responses to grievances is critical as we move into this new era. If the first month of Trump’s presidency is any indication of the years to come, scholars and activists across the political spectrum will have many opportunities to engage these questions.

____________________

*The team Faculty collaborators are Zakiya Luna, PhD (Principal Investigator, California, DC, LA,PH and TX coordinator); Kristen Barber, PhD (St. Louis Lead); Selina Gallo-Cruz, PhD (Boston Lead); Kelsy Kretschmer, PhD (Portland Lead). The site leadership was provided by Anna Chatillon (Austin, TX); Fátima Suarez (Los Angeles, CA); Alex Kulick (Philadelphia, PA & social media); Chandra Russo, PhD (DC co-lead). We are also grateful to many volunteer research assistants.

Dr. Zakiya Luna is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of California, Santa Barbara. Her research focused on social movements, human rights and reproduction with an emphasis on the effects of intersecting inequalities within and across these sites. She has published multiple articles on activism, feminism and reproductive justice. For more information on her research and teaching, see http://www.zakiyaluna.com.

Alex Kulick, MA, is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara and trainee in the National Science Foundation network science IGERT program. Their research investigates social processes of inequality and resistance with an emphasis on sexuality, gender, and race.

Anna Chatillon-Reed is a doctoral student in sociology at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is currently completing her MA, which investigates the relationship between the Black Lives Matter movement and feminist organizations.

Protestors march in the Woman’s March on Washington D.C. Jan. 21, 2017. The Capital Mall area was the starting point of the march, hundreds of thousands of people attended. (National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Daniel Gagnon, JTF-DC).

Waves of pink knitted hats and protest signs packed the streets of D.C. on January 21, 2017, just one day after President Trump’s inauguration drew average crowds. The Women’s March of 2017 was the largest protest in recent history, bringing together over 500,000 people in DC- the location of the flagship march, and over 2.9 million people nationwide. Protesters came from near and far to protect a diverse set of rights that are threatened by the incoming administration. Perhaps the Women’s March can be understood as a partial response to President Obama’s declaration in his farewell address that the most important office in a democracy is “citizen,” and, thus, citizens must work to improve our society, not just when there is an election or when their own narrow interests are at stake. The march was an example of what this kind of democracy looks like. Originally proposed on social media, the idea for the march took off and a groundswell of support emerged from independent individuals and those associated with organizations.  Despite this level of support, many have speculated about who attended the march, whether they voted, the goals of protesters and their level of civic engagement. Some have discounted the protesters as only forwarding the perspectives and issues of white women and eschewing those of other groups such as people of color and/or members of the LGBTQ community.

Combatting this new era of “alternative facts,” a research team led by Dr. Dana R. Fisher, Dr. Dawn M. Dow and Dr. Rashawn Ray from the University of Maryland, College Park provides data-supported facts about participants at the Women’s March. Teams of 2 surveyed participants throughout the march (full details of sampling and methodology available upon request) to understand who was protesting and why. In total, 527 people completed the survey (representing a 92.5% response rate).

Far from using protesting as a substitute for voting, as a recent tweet from Trump suggested, initial findings from this project show that the protesters at the Women’s March voted, and overwhelmingly for Secretary Hillary Clinton. Among respondents, 90.1% reporting voting for Hilary Clinton, 2.3% voted for a third-party candidate and .2% (one person) voted for Donald Trump. Among the 1.7% who explicitly said they did not vote, nearly half were non-U.S. citizens who are not eligible to do so.

Our findings also suggest that the Women’s March has potentially lit the political fires of a new generation of activists and reactivated the political activism of others. Indeed, a third of the participants reported that the Women’s March was their first time participating in a protest ever. For over half of the participants (55.9%), the March was their first protest in 5 years (including those who had never participated before).

Respondents were also asked to identify the issues that motivated them to protest.  Our data suggest protesters were unified by a range of distinct and overlapping priorities. Given the name of the march, it is not surprising that 60.6% of respondents cited women’s rights as a motivation for protesting.  However, other social issues were also at the forefront of protesters’ minds. Nearly tied for second place, protesters cited the environment (35.5%), racial justice (35.1%), LGBTQ rights (34.7%), and reproductive rights (32.7%) as motivations to attend. Other political issues were also well represented including equality (25.1%), social welfare (23.1%) and immigration (21.6%).  Indeed, rather than representing a narrow set of interests, protesters identified multiple and diverse motivations for participating.

Historically protests focus on one social issue such as equal pay, climate change, voting rights or same sex marriage. The Women’s March was different in that its protesters were seemingly engaged in intersectional activism–a version of activism that is sensitive to how race, class, gender and sexuality complicate inequality. Perhaps the Women’s March is distinct in this way because protesters were not just motivated by concrete issues, but they were also motivated by a desire to protect and reassert a vision of America that embraces diversity and inclusion as a strength rather than a threat. This vision of America is increasingly under attack by the Trump Administration. It remains to be seen how the energy from the march will translate into change locally across the country but recent protests suggest that citizens stand ready to protect their rights and the rights of others.

Dr. Dawn M. Dow is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park.  She received a PhD in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley and also earned a JD from Columbia University, School of Law.  Dow’s research examines intersections of race, class and gender within the context of the family, educational settings, the workplace and the law. Her work has been published in journals including Gender & Society, Journal of Marriage and Family and Sociology of Race & Ethnicity.  Follow her on Twitter here.

Dr. Dana R. Fisher is a Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Program for Society and the Environment at the University of Maryland. Her research focuses on environmental policy, civic participation and activism more broadly. She has written extensively on activism and social protest in articles as well as in her second book Activism, Inc. (Stanford University Press 2006).  Fisher’s work on protest builds on data collected from around 5,000 protesters at thirteen protest events in six countries. For more information, go to www.drfisher.umd.edu.  Follow her on Twitter here.

Dr. Rashawn Ray is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. Ray obtained a Ph.D. in Sociology from Indiana University in 2010. From 2010-2012 he was a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Policy Research Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley/UCSF. Ray’s research addresses the mechanisms that manufacture and maintain racial and social inequality. His work also speaks to ways that inequality may be attenuated through racial uplift activism and social policy. Follow him on Twitter here.

 

The Women’s March in Washington had three times more people in attendance than did President Trump’s inauguration. Many have argued about the reasons for these numbers (see here, here, and here), and used them both individually and together to make claims about activism and political support. But something is missing from these conversations. In order to fully understand the differences in attendance at these events in D.C., and to avoid taking these numbers to mean something they do not, we must account for class and race.

Gender, education and race may have been the biggest rifts in voters this past presidential election, but class is part of this political shift. At least part of why people didn’t show up for President Trump’s inauguration in droves but did show up to the Women’s Marches is a story of class privilege and the cultural capital that comes with it. Upper middle class white women and urban dwellers from all classes had easy access to Women’s Marches, both in D.C. and around the country. Many of Trump’s voters would have had to fly to D.C. Because research shows that only about 50% of the population in the US flies each year, and because that tracks with income and education, Women’s March supporters may have been more likely to fly than Trump voters were. If we look at data from just the five counties with the largest vote share for Trump, we see that, except for Buchanan, Virginia, these locations present great travel distance. Further, President Trump received 4.1% of the vote in Washington, D.C., and lost in surrounding states by large percentages. As CNN points out, a trip to inauguration would be a long one for a critical mass of Trump supporters.

White voters from rural areas and those without a college education represent the largest demographics to turn out for Trump. Many of Trump’s supporters reside in more rural areas that are struggling economically. Cost and familiarity with travel, ease and options in taking time off of work, and geographic proximity to D.C. may have affected participation in Inauguration events. Sociologists talk about cultural capital—or the non-financial goods that help with social mobility beyond economic means. Such capital can include knowledge, skills, and education—things that are both material and symbolic. When Emily lived in rural Arkansas, many people she met had never left the state or in some cases even the county. Indeed, when she told a friend there that she flew home for Christmas and it cost $70, he was surprised that a plane ticket cost less than it did to fill up his truck, because he’d never flown before. Emily’s knowledge of air travel is a form of cultural capital, and one that could put her at an advantage in planning a trip to fly to Washington, D.C. for the March. There is an intimidation that comes from not having done that or been there before—your cultural capital can determine how well versed you are in navigating AirBnB and the slew of cheap flight websites that exist.

Why was the Women’s March so highly attended? Many have analyzed the mass turn-out in D.C., nationally, and internationally. For the first time, the Women’s March brought out highly educated, more affluent white women who have the forms of capital to plan and attend a weekend in D.C. Of course, there were many—millions, in fact—who did not go to D.C., but who showed support in sister marches around the country and globe. For many, their lack of attendance in D.C. could be due to the same barriers that perhaps inhibited many from attending the Inauguration. For others, their participation was possible because demographics likely to participate in Women’s Marches – LGBTQA+ folks and people of color – are more likely to reside in urban communities. But to compare these attendance rates without talking about class, and without talking about the mobilization of white women, muddies the realities of who is ready and willing to act at more local levels.

While the Women’s March may have kicked off a movement that has the tools in place for success, we need to remember that Trump’s path to success was unpredicted. To take his inauguration attendance numbers to mean that his initial supporters have changed their minds or that Trump has lost political support would be a potentially grave mistake. To take what is now the largest protest in U.S. history as evidence of mass, continued mobilization, that may also be inaccurate. White women are just starting to show up—will they continue to do so? In talking about the intersections of class and race, we remember who is able to mobilize and show support when, and we must bring these intersections to the fore in future conversations about mobilization and activism.

Sarah Diefendorf is a PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Washington. Her research centers on sexuality, gender, and evangelical religious groups. You can follow her on Twitter here.

Emily Kalah Gade is a PhD candidate in Political Science at the University of Washington. Her research centers on political violence, civil resistance and militancy.

The 2017 Women’s March was a historic event.  Social media alone gave many of us the notion that something happened on an incredibly grand scale.  But measuring just how “grand” is an inexact science.  Women’s Marches were held around the world in protest of Trump on the day following his inauguration.  Subsequently, lots of folks have tried to find good ways of counting the crowds.  Photos and videos of the crowds at some of the largest marches are truly awe-inspiring.  And the media have gotten stirred up attempting to quantify just how big this march really was.

Think about it.  The image below is taken of some of the crowds in Los Angeles.  The caption Getty Images associates with the image includes the estimate “Hundreds of thousands of protesters…”  But, was it 200,000?  Or was it more like 900,000?  Do you think you could eyeball it and make an educated guess?  We’d bet you’d be off by more than you think.  Previous research has found, for instance, that march participants and organizers are not always the best source of information for how large a protest was.  If you’re there and you’re asked how many people were there, you’re much more likely to exaggerate the number of people who were actually there with you.  And that fact has spawned wildly variable estimates for marches around the U.S. and beyond.

More than one set of estimates exist attempting to figure this out.  The estimates that have garnered the most media attention (deservedly) are those produced by Jeremy Pressman and Erica Chenoweth.  They collected as many estimates as they could for marches all around the world to try to figure out just how large the protest was on a global scale.  Pressman & Chenoweth collected a range of estimates, and in their data set they classify them by source as well as providing the lowest and highest estimates for each of the marches for which they were able to collect data. You can see and interact with those estimates visually below in a map produced by Eric Compas (though some updates were made in the data set after Compas produced the map).

By Pressman & Chenoweth’s estimates, the total number of marchers in the U.S. was between 3,266,829 and 5,246,321 participants.  When they include marches outside the U.S. as well they found that we can add between 266,532 and 357,071 marchers to that number to understand the scale of the protest on an international scale.  That is truly extraordinary.  But, the range is still gigantic.  The difference between their lowest and highest estimate is around 2.1 million people!  Might it be possible to figure out which of these estimates are better estimates of crowd size than others?

Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight.com tried to figure this out in an interesting way.  They only attempted to answer this question for U.S. marches alone.  And Silver and a collection of his statistical team produced their own data set of U.S. marches.  They collected as many crowd estimates as they could for all of the marches held in the U.S.  And there are lots of holes in their data that Pressman and Chenoweth filled.  March organizers collect information about crowd size and are eager to claim every individual who can be claimed to have been present.  But, local officials estimate crowd sizes as well because it helps to give them a sense of what they will need to prepare for and respond to such crowds.  As a part of this, some marches had estimates from march organizers, news sources, official estimates, as well as estimates from non-partisan experts (so-called crowd scientists)–this is especially true of the larger marches.  Examining their data, they discovered that for every march in which they had both organizer and official estimates, the organizers’ estimate was 50-70% higher than the officials’ estimates.  As Silver wrote: “Or put another way, the estimates produced by organizers probably exaggerated crowd sizes by 40 percent to 100 percent, depending on the city” (here).  The estimates Silver produced at FiveThirtyEight are mapped below.

You can interact with the map to see Nate Silver’s team estimate, but also the various estimates on which that estimate is based.  And you may note that the low and high estimates are often the same for Silver and for Pressman & Chenoweth (though not always).  Additionally, there were a good number of marches in FiveThirtyEight’s data set that lacked any estimates at all. And those marches are not visible on the map above.  Just to consider some of what is missing, you might note that there are no marches on the map immediately above in Puerto Rico, though Silver’s data set includes four marches there–all with no estimates.

Interestingly, Silver took a further step of offering a “best guess” based on patterned differences between types of estimates they found for marches for which they had more than a single source of data (more than one estimate).  For instance, where there were only organizers’ estimates, they discounted that estimate by 40%, assuming that it was exaggerated.  They discounted news estimates by 20% for similar reasons.  Sometimes, non-partisan experts relying on photographs and videos provide estimates were available, which were not discounted (similar to official estimates).

It might be possible then, as Pressman & Chenoweth collected many more estimates, to fine-tune Silver’s formula and possibly come up with an even more accurate estimate of crowd sizes at marches around the world based on the source of the estimate. It’s a fascinating puzzle and a really interesting and simple way of considering how to resolve it with a (likely) conservative measure.

By these (likely conservative) estimates, marches in the U.S. alone drew more than 3,000,000 people across hundreds of separate locations across the nation.  In the U.S. alone, FiveThirtyEight estimated that 3,234,343 people participated (though, as we said, some marches simply lacked any source of data in the data set they produced).  And that number, you might note, is strikingly close to Pressman & Chenoweth’s low estimate for the U.S. (3,266,829).  Even by this conservative estimate, this would qualify the 2017 Women’s March as certainly among the largest mass protests in U.S. history.  It may very well have been the largest mass protest in American history.  And in our book, that’s worth counting.

Tara Leigh Tober, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY.  She studies the sociology of memory, is writing a book on how the Irish have remembered being neutral during WWII, and is presently engaged in a study on mass shootings in the U.S.  You can follow her on Twitter here.

Tristan Bridges, PhD is a professor at The College at Brockport, SUNY. He is the co-editor of Exploring Masculinities: Identity, Inequality, Inequality, and Change with C.J. Pascoe and studies gender and sexual identity and inequality. You can follow him on Twitter here. Tristan also blogs regularly at Inequality by (Interior) Design.

Originally posted at Reports from the Economic Front.

Defenders of capitalism in the United States often choose not to use that term when naming our system, preferring instead the phrase “market system.”  Market system sounds so much better, evoking notions of fair and mutually beneficial trades, equality, and so on.  The use of that term draws attention away from the actual workings of our system.

In brief, capitalism is a system structured by the private ownership of productive assets and driven by the actions of those who seek to maximize the private profits of the owners.  Such an understanding immediately raises questions about how some people and not others come to own productive wealth and the broader social consequences of their pursuit of profit.

Those are important questions because it is increasingly apparent that while capitalism continues to produce substantial benefits for the largest asset owners, those benefits have increasingly been secured through the promotion of policies – globalization, financialization, privatization of state services, tax cuts, attacks on social programs and unions – that have both lowered overall growth and left large numbers of people barely holding the line, if not actually worse off.

The following two figures come from a Washington Post article by Jared Bernstein in which he summarizes the work of Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman. The first set of bars shows the significant decline in US pre-tax income growth.  In the first period (1946-1980), pre-tax income grew by 95 percent.  In the second (1980-2014), it grew by only 61 percent.

income-trends

This figure also shows that this slower pre-tax income growth has not been a problem for those at the top of the income distribution.  Those at the top more than compensated for the decline by capturing a far greater share of income growth than in the past.  In fact, those in the bottom 50 percent of the population gained almost nothing over the period 1980 to 2014.

The next figure helps us see that the growth in inequality has been far more damaging to the well-being of the bottom half than the slowdown in overall income growth.  As Bernstein explains:

The bottom [blue] line in the next figure shows actual pretax income for adults in the bottom half of the income scale. The top [red] line asks how these folks would have done if their income had grown at the average rate from the earlier, faster-growth period. The middle [green] line asks how they would have done if they experienced the slower, average growth of the post-1980 period.

The difference between the top two lines is the price these bottom-half adults paid because of slower growth. The larger gap between the middle and bottom line shows the price they paid from doing much worse than average, i.e., inequality… That explains about two-thirds of the difference in endpoints. Slower growth hurt these families’ income gains, but inequality hurt them more.

inequality-versus-growth

A New York Times analysis of pre-tax income distribution over the period 1974 to 2014 reinforces this conclusion about the importance of inequality.  As we can see in the figure below, the top 1 percent and bottom 50 percent have basically changed places in terms of their relative shares of national income.

changing-places

The steady ratcheting down in majority well-being is perhaps best captured by studies designed to estimate the probability of children making more money than their parents, an outcome that was the expectation for many decades and that underpinned the notion of “the American dream.”

Such research is quite challenging, as David Leonhardt explains in a New York Times article, “because it requires tracking individual families over time rather than (as most economic statistics do) taking one-time snapshots of the country.”  However, thanks to newly accessible tax records that go back decades, economists have been able to estimate this probability and how it has changed over time.

Leonhardt summarizes the work of one of the most important recent studies, that done by economists associated with the Equality of Opportunity Project. In summary terms, those economists found that a child born into the average American household in 1940 had a 92 percent chance of making more than their parents.  This falls to 79 percent for a child born in 1950, 62 percent for a child born in 1960, 61 percent for a child born in 1970, and only 50 percent for a child born in 1980.

The figure below provides a more detailed look at the declining fortunes of most Americans.   The horizontal access shows the income percentile a child is born into and the vertical access shows the probability of that child earning more than their parents.   The drop-off for children born in 1960 and 1970 compared to the earlier decade is significant and is likely the result of the beginning effects of the changes in capitalist economic dynamics that started gathering force in the late 1970s, for example globalization, privatization, tax cuts, union busting, etc.  The further drop-off for children born in 1980 speaks to the strengthening and consolidation of those dynamics.

american-dream

The income trends highlighted in the figures above are clear and significant, and they point to the conclusion that unless we radically transform our capitalist system, which will require building a movement capable of challenging and overcoming the power of those who own and direct our economic processes, working people in the United States face the likelihood of an ever-worsening future.

Martin Hart-Landsberg, PhD is a professor emeritus of economics at Lewis and Clark College. You can follow him at Reports from the Economic Front.

1Will Davies, a politics professor and economic sociologist at Goldsmiths, University of London, summarized his thoughts on Brexit for the Political Economy and Research Centre, arguing that the split wasn’t one of left and right, young and old, racist or not racist, but center and the periphery. You can read it in full there, or scroll down for my summary.

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Many of the strongest advocates for Leave, many have noted, were actually among the beneficiaries of the UK’s relationship with the EU. Small towns and rural areas receive quite a bit of financial support. Those regions that voted for Leave in the greatest numbers, then, will also suffer some of the worst consequences of the Leave. What motivated to them to vote for a change that will in all likelihood make their lives worse?

Davies argues that the economic support they received from their relationship with the EU was paired with a culturally invisibility or active denigration by those in the center. Those in the periphery lived in a “shadow welfare state” alongside “a political culture which heaped scorn on dependency.”

Davies uses philosopher Nancy Fraser’s complementary ideas of recognition and redistribution: people need economic security (redistribution), but they need dignity, too (recognition). Malrecognition can be so psychically painful that even those who knew they would suffer economically may have been motivated to vote Leave. “Knowing that your business, farm, family or region is dependent on the beneficence of wealthy liberals,” writes Davies, “is unlikely to be a recipe for satisfaction.”

It was in this context that the political campaign for Leave penned the slogan: “Take back control.” In sociology we call this framing, a way of directing people to think about a situation not just as a problem, but a particular kind of problem. “Take back control” invokes the indignity of oppression. Davies explains:

It worked on every level between the macroeconomic and the psychoanalytic. Think of what it means on an individual level to rediscover control. To be a person without control (for instance to suffer incontinence or a facial tick) is to be the butt of cruel jokes, to be potentially embarrassed in public. It potentially reduces one’s independence. What was so clever about the language of the Leave campaign was that it spoke directly to this feeling of inadequacy and embarrassment, then promised to eradicate it. The promise had nothing to do with economics or policy, but everything to do with the psychological allure of autonomy and self-respect.

Consider the cover of the Daily Mail praising the decision and calling politicians “out-of-touch” and the EU “elite” and “contemptuous”:2

From this point of view, Davies thinks that the reward wasn’t the Leave, but the vote itself, a veritable middle finger to the UK center and the EU “eurocrats.” They know their lives won’t get better after a Brexit, but they don’t see their lives getting any better under any circumstances, so they’ll take the opportunity to pop a symbolic middle finger. That’s all they think they have.

And that’s where Davies thinks the victory  of the Leave vote parallels strongly with Donald Trump’s rise in the US:

Amongst people who have utterly given up on the future, political movements don’t need to promise any desirable and realistic change. If anything, they are more comforting and trustworthy if predicated on the notion that the future is beyond rescue, for that chimes more closely with people’s private experiences.

Some people believe that voting for Trump might in fact make things worse, but the pleasure of doing so — of popping a middle finger to the Republican party and political elites more generally — would be satisfaction enough. In this sense, they may be quite a lot like the Leavers. For the disenfranchised, a vote against pragmatism and solidarity may be the only satisfaction that this election, or others, is likely to get them.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.