Control loss feeling among US, Brexit voters?
In a July 2016 national referendum on the desirability of continued United Kingdom membership in the European Union, 52 percent of the British electorate voted for the UK’s withdrawal from the 28-member politico-economic group, in the process dealing a severe blow to the European Project. In the Nov. 9, 2016 US presidential election, the Electoral College of the world’s most powerful country elected the Republican candidate Donald Trump. In the minds of many seasoned analysts the two results represented upsets: the “Remain” side in the UK referendum and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been expected to win, even if narrowly.
Like many people, I have been reading all the analyses and commentaries on the issue of why the results of the UK referendum and the US presidential election went the way they did. Why did the US voters decide to give Trump the Electoral College votes he needed for victory?
One of the best analyses I have read has been written by two economists, both Asians. Both are based at National University of Singapore–Kishore Bahbubani is the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at NUS and Danny Quah is a professor of economics there.
The core of the NUS economists’ analysis of the “Remain” and Clinton electoral debacles was that there was, and still is, a “feeling of lost control” among the majority of the citizenries of the US and the Western European countries. Wrote Quah and Mahbubani: “Inequality is not the root cause of the public disaffection underlying the populist uprising. Feeling of lost control are. The focus, they said, is not where it should be, it should be on geopolitical change.
Quah and Mahbubani went on to say: “What united Trump and Leave supporters was not anger at being excluded from the benefits of globalization but, rather, a shared sense of unease that they no longer control their own destinies. Widening income inequality can add to this distress, but so can other factors.”
Driving home their point, the NUS economists went on to say: The (US) poor were more favorable toward Clinton, and the rich toward Trump. Contrary to the popular narrative, Trump does not owe his victory to people who were most anxious about falling off the economic ladder. A similar story unfolded in the UK’s Brexit vote … it is revealing that rich businessmen wrote the largest checks to support Leave.”
Quah and Mahbubani expounded further: “The power of the trans-Atlantic axis that used to run the world is slipping away, and the sense of losing control is being felt by these countries’ political elites and (their) ordinary citizen alike.”
Wrapping up their thesis, the NUS economists stated: “So, while income inequality might have been a part of the Brexit and US Presidential campaigns’ background noise, it was not the first issue on the voters’ minds.”
How about Rodrigo Duterte’s victory in the 2016 presidential election? Are there any parallels that the NUS economists can draw between the May 9, 2016 local political exercise and the US election and UK referendum?
Hardly any. For one thing, immigration, globalization and a Philippine foreign entanglement of the UK-EU kind were not issues in the 2016 election. For another, there was no “loss of control” that the Philippines was in any danger of losing. Most important of all, 62 percent of this country’s voters wanted a candidate other than Rodrigo Duterte to control the destiny of the Philippines during the six years beginning June 30, 2016.