Sunday, May 7, 2017

The popular kind of populism

In March, the Gallup Poll asked a series of questions starting with "Now, I am going to read several actions either taken or proposed by President (Donald) Trump. For each one, tell me if you agree or disagree with it, or if you don't know enough to have an opinion."  They are, going from most to least approval:
                                                                                                                                              A   D   DK
require companies to provide family leave for parents 
                             after the birth of a child?  81% 10%    9%
enact a $1 trillion program to improve US 
    infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and tunnels?  76   12    12
significantly cut federal income taxes for the middle 
                 class?                                   61   26     13
provide federal funding for school-choice programs that 
allow students to attend any private or public school?    59   26     14

increase military spending by $54 billion?                47   42     11
replace the Affordable Care Act, also known as 
     Obama-care, with a new healthcare plan?              44   44     12
stop all refugee resettlement in the US for 120 days?     40   46     14
impose a 90-day ban on issuing new US travel visas for 
     citizens of six Muslim-majority nations?             40   47     13

reduce the corporate income tax rate                      38   43     19
authorize construction of the Keystone XL and 
                      Dakota Access pipelines?            36   39     25
begin the construction of a wall between the 
             US and Mexico?                               36   56     7
eliminate US funding for international organizations 
     that promote or provide abortions?                   35   53     12
put a hiring freeze on most civilian jobs in the 
                 federal government?                      33   46     20
end US participation in the Trans-Pacific trade 
              Partnership or TPP?                         27   30     43
require that for every new federal government regulation 
     put in place, two existing regulations 
     must be eliminated?                                  27   46     27

The striking thing is that he has not taken any action, or even seriously talked about taking action, an the two proposals that are most popular.  In contrast, he has done something on many of the less popular measures.  

I should offer a couple of qualifications.  First, the extremely high popularity of the first two items is probably partly because of the lack of attention they have received. If they were really on the table, opponents would mobilize to make their case and some of the support would fade.  Second, the survey didn't ask about some things that probably are popular, like stepping up deportations.  Still, it is striking that Trump has pushed the parts of his program that people are no more than lukewarm about, and not the parts that people seem to like.  

This relates to the issue of whether we could get a realignment along the lines proposed by R. R. Reno or David Brooks, which you could call "open" versus "closed."  The "open" side would be in favor of immigration, internationalism, and multiculturalism and be liberal on most social issues.  The "closed" side would be nationalist and traditionalist.  On economics, the open side would support redistribution to the poor; the closed side would favor aid to "worthy" people--people with jobs (especially in manufacturing and construction), farmers, small business, veterans.  The open side would be more sympathetic to market mechanisms; the closed side would favor direct government intervention.  The social bases of the parties would shift:  Brooks says "imagine a Republican Party after Donald Trump, led by a younger candidate without his bigotry and culture war tropes. That party will begin to attract disaffected Sanders people who detest the Trans-Pacific Partnership and possibly some minority voters highly suspicious of the political elite."

Could this happen?  In principle, I think that you could have politics oriented around a open-closed axis.  However, I'm not sure that you could get there from here.  Politics has a conservative bias, not in a liberal/conservative sense, but in the sense that keeping your "base" happy is a priority.  If Trump pushed a large public works program or strong measures for family leave, there would be a revolt in the Republican party.  What about a realignment from the other side?  Suppose someone who was America-first, nativist, and socially conservative won as a Democrat.  They would presumably make public works and family leave priorities.  But after that, why move on to things that would not be as popular and would cause a split in the party?  They might make some changes at the margin, but wouldn't go too far.  So even if an open-closed alignment makes sense in principle, I don't think it will become dominant--the left-right alignment will remain dominant, although open/closed will continue as a secondary one.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

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