Professor Popple Thinks Aloud 4

19th November 2016

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The elevation of Donald Trump to the position of President-elect of the United States of America, a role he will officially assume for a four-year period from January 2017, was universally unexpected. However some would argue there were signs that the American people wanted to assert its voice at a time when they thought they were not listened to.

The United States electorate has voted for an enormously wealthy business man (albeit with six hotel and casino company bankruptcies) who has reactionary views on a range of social issues including race, immigration, abortion and same-sex marriages as well as appalling attitudes and behaviour towards women. At the same time the President-elect has made numerous contradictory statements on what he will actually carry-out when he finally enters the White House.

How the American electorate came to vote for someone who many would agree is unfit for the highest office will probably remain ambiguous and contested. However there were signs early on that the American public felt that the Democratic candidate Hilary Clinton was part of the old regime that failed to address their concerns for a better life. In fact evidence shows that 81% of US families are economically worse off now than they were in 2005. Trump’s message was that Clinton presented continuity of a collapsing economic system that benefited the elite. Trump portrayed the United States as having failed institutions and pervasive corruption at the highest levels of public office and claimed that the political class were there to serve themselves. Presenting himself as the candidate that offered change Trump claimed the United State had to make its self ‘great again’. However the change that Trump will actually provide when in office maybe very different from what ordinary Americans need or envisaged.

In regard to the American election it was interesting to note that Trump not only mobilised the blue-collar vote but actually had Latinos voting for him despite his anti-Mexican tirades during the campaign, whilst 53% of white women voted for him even though he made a number of misogynist statements.  Finally as a footnote to the American Presidential election Hilary Clinton actually polled almost 3 million votes more than Donald Trump but the way that votes are calculated in the Electoral College system meant that Trump came out as the winner.

The Trump victory came soon after the EU referendum in the UK. Like the Trump result the reasons why there was a majority of people voting to leave the EU will remain unclear. However let’s look at the profile of those voting.

Surveys show that more women than men voted to leave the EU (52% to 48%). A majority (57%) of those with a university degree voted to remain, and 64% of those with a higher degree and 81% of those still in full education voted remain. A large majority of those whose formal education ended at secondary school voted to leave.

53% of white voters voted to leave the EU whilst 67% of those describing themselves as Asian voted to remain, as did 73% of black voters. Some six in ten (58%) of those describing themselves as Christian voted to leave the EU and seven in ten Muslims voted to remain.

In terms of social class, the AB social group were the only social group where there was a majority voting to remain (57%).

These and many others referendum vote related statistics can be gleaned from the polling undertaken by lordashcroftpolls.com

The outcome of the referendum has exposed divisions in society along the lines of age, education and income. These results do not easily tie in with traditional party politics which has led to many saying we are witnessing an important sea change in politics in the UK. There is also worrying evidence of social tensions and in particular racist incidents across the country. Similarly there are some indications of inter-generational conflict with both the young and older people blaming each other for the result.

What the American election and the EU referendum tell us is that the electorate in both country’s harbour deep suspicion and at times considerable disregard of elected national politicians.

In the UK there is a noticeable democratic deficit with a highly centralised political system where the differences between the two major parties are not always easy to spot. Many argue that the political system needs to be made fairer and more responsive to people’s wishes. Remember the Conservatives were elected to office in 2015 with only 24% of the registered electorate. The MP’s expenses scandal; the elevation to the House of Lords of people who have made financial contributions to the political party they support; the power of corporations to influence government policy whilst not paying their tax liabilities; and the decision to go to war in Iraq in what was considered by millions as an illegal move have all created disillusion with the present political set-up. The referendum for many voters was an opportunity to shake up the system and voice their unhappiness with what the law makers were doing in their name.

Over the next few months and years we will see how the Brexit result will be played out in British society but in the meantime community development practitioners, academics and those involved in devising and delivering policy will be concerned about and watching the impact of the vote on communities and neighbourhoods.

Professor Keith Popple is available for lectures, training, consultations and course examining and validations. He can be contacted on likeicelikefire@hotmail.co.uk

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