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Unemployment during the Great Recession feeds left-wing populism; unauthorized immigration flows feed right-wing populism

Published: 27th June 2019 Last updated: 16th July 2019

In the past decade, there has been a great rise in populism in many western democracies. This has led to the emergence of radical and populist politicians. In his PhD research, Shuai Chen investigates the influence of recent unemployment during the Great Recession and the vast influx of unauthorized immigrants on the growth of populism. He shows there is a difference between the populism caused by economic factors and the populism caused by cultural factors.

Voting behavior

In his research, Chen uses two quasi-natural experiments that took place in the United States: the Great Recession and the 2014 immigration crisis. He investigated the extent to which the recent unemployment and the influx of unauthorized immigrants led to support for populism and influenced voting behavior in the U.S. Presidential Elections in 2016.  He discovers that people that lost their jobs during the Great Recession were more likely to vote for Bernie Sanders, representative of left-wing populism, while cohorts who were already unemployed before the Great Recession were more likely to vote for Clinton, a left centrist.

Among the people living in areas most affected by the increased influx of unauthorized immigrants, an anti-immigrant attitude developed. This group was more likely to vote for right-wing populist Trump.

Methodology

Chen uses longitudinal data and the difference between groups (that had become unemployed during the Great Recession versus that were not unemployed during the whole period; that confronted with a strong increase in the number of unauthorized immigrants versus others) in the change over time (difference in differences) to identify the effects.

Impact

There has not been any empirical studies before on the different drivers between left- and right-wing populism at the individual level. A better understanding of what it is that feeds populism can be a great help to policy makers that want to manage the impact of it.

Shuai Chen (1987) studied Economic Statistics at Xiamen University in China and Mathematical Statistics at Purdue University in the US. He subsequently completed his Research Master’s in Economics at Tilburg University, after which he started his PhD research. He is currently working as a researcher at LISER (Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research). The PhD thesis consists of three component studies. The study dealt with here is titled: Unemployment, Immigration, and Populism: Evidence from two Quasi-Natural Experiments in the United States. The other two studies are on the well-being effects and the symbolic functions of marriage with a focus on same-sex partnerships.

Note to the editors

Shuai Chen will defend his PhD thesis on Monday, July 1, at 16:00 hrs. in the auditorium of Tilburg University. The title of his PhD thesis: Marriage, Minorities, and Mass Movements. Supervisors: prof.  Jan van Ours (Erasmus University Rotterdam) and prof. Arthur van Soest (Tilburg School of Economics and Management). For more information, please contact Shuai Chen via shuaics2003@gmail.com or Arthur van Soest, A.H.O.vanSoest@tilburguniversity.edu / tel. 013 4662028. For Review copies, please write to persvoorlichters@tilburguniversity.edu.