May 26, 2019 📊 Nationalism and nativism are no longer fringe movements

Projected results from today's elections in Europe show nativists at their strongest points yet

Welcome! I’m G. Elliott Morris, data journalist for The Economist and blogger of polls, elections, and political science. Happy Sunday! Here’s my weekly email with links to what I’ve been reading and writing that puts the news in context with public opinion polls, political science, other data (some “big,” some small) and looks briefly at the week ahead. Feedback? Drop me a line or just respond to this email. 

Dear Reader,

In today’s European Elections, nationalist anti-EU forces are slated to win the most seats they’ve ever won. Setting aside what this means for the EU’s next parliament—fragmentation, probably—let’s talk about the underlying phenomenon that got it to the place it’s in. I’ll also discuss how nativism is not only a European problem. (Looking at you, Trump—but also at Australia!)

I also have links to my recent work on economic evaluations and presidential approval, climate change, and polling in Australia’s elections last weekend. Other people had great content on impeachment, the rural-urban divide, the new age of exit polling and, yes, Game of Thrones.

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This Week's Big Question

Is the far-right actually the new right?

Nationalism is no longer a far-right, fringe phenomenon. It has gone mainstream—and it is dangerous.

Image: BBC News/Getty Images

For the uninitiated: What you need to know about the EU and elections to the European Parliament (EP) in six sentences: European countries are allowed to apply for membership to a supranational governing union, the European Union (EU). It does things like issue a common currency and allow free travel between states (although, that’s not really the EU; it’s super complicated). The EU has a parliamentary body, just like any other country, to make laws, consider regulations, admit new states etc. Those elections fall on a multiple-day time span every five years. This time around, nationalist/populist/nativist/etc. parties are projected to win a record number of 200 seats (there are 751 total members of the EP, called MEPs). The results are due today.

Hopefully by now, nationalism is not a foreign concept to my American readers (which, by the looks of it, are about 90% of the total). The 2016 election very much proved that “it can happen here”. The contest led to massive polarization in anti-immigrant, anti-black and pro-white sentiment in America, with Hillary Clinton supporters on one side and Trump’s on the other. Of course, the now-president was the main beneficiary.

I want to make the case that nationalism is (a) more nativist than the media, in its search for authority via neutrality, often makes out to be, and (b) that it is as popular as mainstream ideologies—and that presents a threat.

Let me first make the case that nationalism is fundamentally an anti-diversity ideology, often shrouded in complaints of economic degradation or being “left behind”. It is a threat that must be addressed properly. Let’s look to perhaps the most mainstream, “moderate” nationalist leader, Great Britain’s Nigel Farage.

Here is an old picture of Mr Farage campaigning for the Brexit referendum in June of 2019. It has received renewed attention lately.

And here is some Nazi propaganda.

The similarities between the photos and corresponding messages have been noted frequently since Farage’s original campaign nearly three years ago. This is no coincidence. It has also been reported that Farage said that the “basic principle” of Enoch Powell’s anti-immigration “Rivers of Blood” speech was correct. Yeah…. here is an excerpt from that speech:

As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding. Like the Roman, I seem to see "the River Tiber foaming with much blood". That tragic and intractable phenomenon which we watch with horror on the other side of the Atlantic but which there is interwoven with the history and existence of the States itself, is coming upon us here by our own volition and our own neglect. 

(Pssssst. He’s talking about brown people.)

I have no doubt that the correlation between buying into Farage’s “pro-sovereignty” messaging and sharing Powell’s anti-migrant, anti-non-white feelings is strong—the Venn diagram of people in both camps is likely a circle. And maybe the Brexit vote really was accentuated by economic downturn in the UK or some other legitimate grievance about government powers. But we don’t have great evidence that feelings about race weren’t the bigger motivator—studies point to the opposite, in fact.

The reality in mainland Europe is much sicker. Mr Farage’s hateful message pales in comparison to the types of comments made by the continent’s other nationalist leaders.

Here’s coverage of infamous comments made in 2012 by the Netherlands’ Geert Wilders, for which he was tried (and convicted) for a criminal charge of inciting discrimination):

The charges are based on remarks made by Wilders on March 19 at a rally during local elections.

He asked his followers whether they wanted "fewer or more Moroccans in your city and in the Netherlands?"

To shouts of "Fewer! Fewer!" from the crowd, Wilders told them "We'll take care of that."

The incident led to 6,400 legal complaints being lodged against Wilders. Criticism was even voiced within his own Party for Freedom (PVV), which is leading opinion polls in the Netherlands and is currently the country's fourth largest political party.

Then there is Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right party, the National Front, who said in 2017 that her first act as President of France (she did not win the election) would be “to restore France’s frontiers” and prevent migrants from making all of the country “a squat”. The New York Times gets it right:

[Le Pen] has already pushed the discourse rightward and made a visceral promise to voters: to protect not just France, but Frenchness [emphasis my own]. Whether the menace is defined as Islam, immigration or globalization, her vow to voters is the same: I am the woman to preserve the French way of life.

Make France “French” Again. Sound familiar?

Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s Prime Minister, pledged to defend the country against “Muslim invaders” in early 2018.

The fact that Orban is the Prime Minister of Hungary is entirely my point; It is not that there are just dangerous party leaders out there. It’s that support for them has spread all over Europe. In most countries, nationalist/populist parties can count on the support of roughly 15% of voters. In some special cases, even more have proven susceptible to their demagogic tactics. In Hungary, over half of the country has agreed with their views. Take this handy map from BBC News as your guide:

The point is this: A properly calibrated understanding of the widespread support for the “far-right” is necessary if Europe’s better nature is to prevail and her people are to effectively combat nationalism in their countries. And I have a question for you all: is it really that “far-” right? Or should we call it the new right?

We will soon know the results of today’s elections to the European Parliament. If projections are right, they should issue a stark warning for the people of Europe. Americans should heed those warnings. Trump is not the culmination of nationalism and nativism in the United States—if Europe is the operative model, he is only the beginning.

But there may be good news yet. The Greens are projected to win a baker’s dozen more seats than they did last time around. Some early results also suggest that the polls overstated support for far-right parties. Small victories, right?

And now, the most notable stuff I read and wrote over the last week.

Posts for subscribers:

Political Data

From me for The Economist: “American voters don’t care about the economy”

Between 1952 and 2009, when Barack Obama became president, the popularity of America’s leaders was quite strongly influenced by the economy. Excluding the first six months of every president’s term (a honeymoon period when ratings tend to be high) a quarter of the variation in monthly presidential approval ratings could be explained by variation in the index of consumer sentiment. Ronald Reagan had an approval rating of 42% when Americans were suffering under high inflation in the summer of 1982. By the time the economy rebounded four years later, his rating had increased by 25 percentage points.

Under Barack Obama the relationship broke down. After the highs of the first few months, his approval rating moved between 40% and the low 50s. Americans felt much the same about him in good times and in bad. President Donald Trump also seems stuck in the polls, despite a booming economy. If the normal relationship between consumer confidence and popularity held, about 60% of Americans would approve of him. The latest Gallup poll suggests that only 42% do.

From me for The Economist: “Did pollsters misread Australia’s election, or did pundits?”

Critics in Australia have compared the upset to big electoral surprises in other English-speaking democracies, such as America’s last presidential contest and Britain’s referendum on leaving the EU. However, polling before the vote gave Labor an even more tenuous lead than the modest advantages thought to be held by Hillary Clinton and the Remain campaign. Where America’s leading election forecasters gave Mrs Clinton anywhere from a 70% to 85% chance of winning the presidency, the odds of Mr Shorten becoming PM were much closer to 50%. According to a forecasting model developed by Peter Ellis, an Australian statistician for the Nous Group, a consultancy, the opposition party had merely a 54% chance of either winning an outright majority or capturing enough seats alongside minor-party allies to form a governing coalition.

Emily Badger (NYT Upshot): “How the Rural-Urban Divide Became America’s Political Fault Line”

Democrats have blamed the Senate, the Electoral College and gerrymandering for their disadvantage. But the problem runs deeper, according to Jonathan Rodden, a Stanford political scientist: The American form of government is uniquely structured to exacerbate the urban-rural divide — and to translate it into enduring bias against the Democratic voters, clustered at the left of the accompanying chart.

Yes, the Senate gives rural areas (and small states) disproportionate strength. “That’s an obvious problem for Democrats,” Mr. Rodden said. “This other problem is a lot less obvious.”

In a new book, “Why Cities Lose,” he describes the problem as endemic, affecting Congress but also state legislatures; red states but blue ones, too. As the Democratic Party is tugged between its progressive and moderate wings heading into the next election, Mr. Rodden’s analysis also suggests that if Democrats move too far to the left, geography will punish them.

Pavielle Haines and Seth Masket (FiveThirtyEight): “Who White Democrats Vote For In 2020 Could Be Shaped By Why They Think Clinton Lost”

In our study — which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, though the preliminary findings have been shared at a recent conference of the Midwest Political Science Association — we showed half the respondents a fictitious newspaper clipping that said Democrats lost the 2016 election and failed to take the Senate in 2018 because the party focused too much on identity politics and didn’t address universal issues like the economy.2 The other half of the respondent group was shown a clipping about Democratic disappointments in 2016 and 2018 that did not reference identity politics.3 We then asked respondents why they thought Democrats lost in 2016 and had them participate in something called a conjoint study, which asked respondents to choose between two hypothetical Democratic 2020 candidates, randomizing for gender, race and ideology, in a series of trial heats.

The findings were telling. Among those who weren’t shown the story about identity politics, men were more than twice as likely as women to believe that identity politics caused Clinton’s loss. But reading the identity politics story seemed to have little effect on men, who believed that explanation for Clinton’s loss in about equal numbers whether we showed them the identity-politics story or not. Among women, on the other hand, there was a dramatic difference between those who were shown the story blaming identity politics and those who were not — those in the first group were more than twice as likely to blame identity politics for the loss

Alexi McCammond (Axios): “The Democrats' 100-year flood”

The midterm elections may have been a sign of what's ahead for the 2020 presidential election: experts say the voter turnout could be the highest in a century.

The big picture: According to Michael McDonald, an elections expert at the University of Florida, turnout for the 2020 presidential election could be as high as 67% — the highest it's been since at least 1916. If that happens, President Trump will have a tougher fight for a second term.

He's driving turnout among those most unhappy with him (younger voters and people of color) even when he's not on the ballot.

And Trump voters aren't a growing demographic group. The share of whites with less than a 4-year degree — Trump's constituency — dropped by 3% from 2014 to 2018.

Nate Silver (FiveThirtyEight): Are More Moderate Democrats More Electable?”

…none of the other Democrats have the near-universal name recognition that Sanders and Biden enjoy. And people are reluctant to say they’ll vote for candidates who they don’t know much about. For instance, Trump gets about 44 percent in polls against both the well-known Sanders and the relatively unknown Buttigieg. Sanders is ahead by a larger margin — but it’s because he gets 49 percent whereas Buttigieg gets 44 percent with a lot more undecideds, probably including a lot of people who would vote for Buttigieg if they knew who he was.

An alternative is to look at candidates’ favorability ratings among the general electorate, which give voters the option of saying they don’t know enough to have an opinion about a candidate. Here’s an average of those polls since Biden entered the race:Sanders’s numbers are decent — but in general moderate candidates have slightly better favorables. Buttigeg’s net-favorable ratings are a little better than Sanders, for instance, and Biden, Buttigieg and Julián Castro are the only Democrats with net-positive ratings. The worst ratings belong to liberal candidates such as Kirsten Gillibrand (who has opposed Trump more often than any other senator) and, especially, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Jennifer de Pinto (CBS News): “Majority of Americans don't want Roe v. Wade overturned, CBS News poll finds”

Two-thirds of Americans want Roe v. Wade left in place, and most who hold that view would be disappointed or angry if the ruling were to be overturned someday, a new CBS News poll finds. Recent state laws restricting abortions have prompted speculation over whether the Supreme Court might one day revisit the decision.

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, almost twice as many Americans say they would be dissatisfied or angry than happy or satisfied. A quarter say it wouldn't matter much. 

Most who want the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade would be happy (35%) or satisfied (31%) if that were to happen. Among those who want Roe v. Wade kept as it is, a majority would be dissatisfied or angry if the ruling were to be overturned, including 44% who said they would be angry.

Views on abortion divide along partisan lines as they have for years, but Republicans split over whether Roe v. Wade, specifically, ought to be overturned.

Sarah Fischer (Axiox): “Joe Biden surges past Trump on Facebook and Google spending”

Why it matters: For a while, Trump was dominating online advertising spend on Google and Facebook, giving his campaign an unprecedented early lead in drumming up grassroots support ahead of 2020. Now, Democrats — led by Joe Biden and Kamala Harris — are catching up.

By the numbers: Just 2 months ago in March, Trump's campaign was outspending all Democrats combined on those platforms 2:1. Now, according to data from Advertising Analytics and Bully Pulpit Interactive:

Democrats have spent nearly twice as much as the Trump campaign since January.

In total, Democrats have spent roughly $12.7 million on digital ads on Google and Facebook since the beginning of the year.

The Trump campaign has spent $7.9 million.

Biden's campaign said that 70% of the $6.3 million that he raised in his campaign's first 24 hours, a record among the 2020 Dems, was from online.The strongest response came from videos featuring Biden, the campaign said.

Other Data and Cool Work

From me for The Economist: “China is surprisingly carbon-efficient—but still the world’s biggest emitter”

In one sense, China’s reputation as the bellows of “hothouse Earth” is overblown. Since 1850 countries with a gdp per head of $12,000-16,000 in 2019 dollars have produced a population-weighted average of 10.6 tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent gases per person per year. In 2016 China’s gdp per head was $14,000, and it emitted just 9.3 tonnes per person.

Moreover, China pollutes far less per person than Western countries did at the same stage of development. When America, France, Britain and Germany had incomes similar to modern China’s, they relied on inefficient power stations and cars, and spewed out 16.6 tonnes per person.

The combination of China’s huge population and rapid gdp growth has nonetheless made it the world’s biggest emitter of carbon. China is predicted to produce 16bn tonnes of greenhouse gases in 2030—four times the entire world’s output in 1900.

By Ilia Blinderman, Caitlyn Ralph, Russell Goldenberg, and Thoka Maer (The Pudding): “30 Years of American Anxieties

You have really got to click through this take in the beauty of the interactive

The Economist: “How unprecedented is the decline of ‘Game of Thrones’?

Few have high hopes for “Game of Thrones'” final episode, which airs this Sunday. Punters on betting markets reckon the episode's rating on Rotten Tomatoes, another television-and-film review site, will probably fall below 64.5%.

The show's decline is not without precedent. Data from IMDb show that at least one prominent show has had a harder fall: Netflix's “House of Cards”. The series, originally based on a British drama from 1990, suffered immensely after the unexpected departure of Kevin Spacey, the lead actor who had to be removed after being publicly accused of sexual harassment.

The final episode of “Game of Thrones” seems likely to leave millions of fans feeling unsatisfied and angry. But they should take solace that it could have been a lot worse.

Political Science, Survey Research, and Other Nerdy Things

Yair Ghitza (Catalist): “Revisiting What Happened in the 2018 Election”

What about the change from 2016 to 2018? The same calculations from earlier are shown in the graph above and tell a different story. Overall, Democrats had a +5.0% gain compared to the 2016 Presidential. The impact of dropoff voters was only -2.0% this time, because the number of dropoff voters was smaller (37.4 million people) and they were less strongly supportive of Clinton (50% to 42%). There were 14.4 million new 2018 voters, who supported Democrats 60% to 39%, multiplying out to a +2.6% margin. The remaining change came from 99.4 million people who voted both times, and went from being tied in 2016 to 52% to 47% Democratic in 2018, multiplying out to +4.5%.

In other words, two things happened between 2016 and 2018. First, there was a massive turnout boost that favored Democrats, at least compared to past midterms. The “turnout penalty” in 2014 cost Democrats about 7 points in margin. This time turnout essentially broke even with 2016 — this was a major piece of the Democratic victory. But if turnout was the only factor, then Democrats would not have seen nearly the gains that they ended up seeing. Changing vote choice accounted for a +4.5% margin change, out of the +5.0% margin change that was seen overall — a big piece of Democratic victory was due to 2016 Trump[9] voters turning around and voting for Democrats in 2018.

AP VoteCast is the next big thing in exit polling technology:

The VoteCast estimates for the composition of the 2018 electorate are very similar to estimates from the 2018 Current Population Survey’s Voting and Registration Supplement for age, race/ethnicity, gender, and educational groups.

Table 2 below highlights the comparisons between the CPS estimates for voters nationwide and the VoteCast estimates both at poll close and after weighting the results to the final vote count. Both VoteCast estimates are within 1-2 percentage points of the CPS estimates for all age groups, gender, racial/ethnic groups, and education levels.

Matt Grossman: Ideological polarization is mostly limited to the political domain

Alexander Agadjanian: Differential partisan nonresponse explains most movement in public polling of the 2018 election

Adam Bonica: Indeed, the 2020 Democrats are farther left than their whole congressional caucus would suggest (my commentary)

What I'm Reading and Working On

I’m saying R.I.P. to my mentions next week and publishing a piece about abortion. It’ll come out tomorrow morning, I think. Otherwise, it’s a short week after the holiday, and we’ll see what data I end up gathering for my next big project.


Thanks for reading. I’ll be back in your inbox next Sunday. In the meantime, follow me online or reach out via email. I’d love to hear from you!

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