Who’s Afraid of a Populist Party?

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar Freddie says:

    I’ve been saying for a long time that the economic conservative/socially liberal fusion (which the political class has been predicting as the future of conservatism for as long as I’ve been politically aware) doesn’t solve the most elementary demographic issue of conservatism, which is the need to attract more non-white voters. Black and Hispanic voters tend to be economically liberal but socially conservative, or more socially conservative than the average college educated white liberal, anyway. A populist party might be able to court some of those voters.

    The problem is, as we see time and again, economic issues tend to dominate personal politics, and despite prediction after prediction saying they’ll skew Republican, Hispanic voters, on economic issues, support moderate Democrat policies in consistent majorities.Report

  2. Avatar Trumwill says:

    The problem is, as we see time and again, economic issues tend to dominate personal politics,

    Perhaps, but I would say that identity politics* trumps economic issues but a significant margin. A populist party consisting of socially conservative whites is going to have a pretty hard time recruiting minorities even if, issue for issue, they agree far more often than not.

    * – By which I do not mean “uppity minorities voting their race”. I would apply the label to rural whites, Christians, urban whites, and other groups that identify themselves that vote who they believe they are.Report

  3. Avatar M.Z. says:

    This is an area where national analysis tends to break down I believe. What is populist is a roughly the disputed issues that move 1/3 of the electorate between the two parties in any given region. Hence you get one group that claims a populist is economically conservative and socially liberal, in other words a northeastern Republican. Another group claims that a populist is economically liberal and socially conservative, in other words a rural Midwestern Democrat. But then you get deeper. What’s the populist position on farm subsidies? I can tell you what they are in Iowa. What’s the populist position on logging public lands? Needless to say it ain’t the same in Iowa as it is in Idaho.

    When people speak of Democrats that oppose abortion and Republicans that support gay marriage, they tend to think the folks are misplaced rather than weakly affiliated on the question. I tend to think the two parties in their positions are fairly reflective of the national consensus and there is no magic bullet third party that could thread a consistent set of issues to be viable nationally. Admittedly the view isn’t nearly as exciting as believing in some hidden majority that just has to be found, but I’m comfortable with how it holds up under scrutiny.Report

    • Avatar trumwill says:

      @M.Z.:Hence you get one group that claims a populist is economically conservative and socially liberal, in other words a northeastern Republican.

      Do those folks really identify as populist? You’re using the word populist the same way that I would use “centrist” or “moderate”. Populists, generally speaking, almost always have a claim on being either socially conservative or economically liberal. More typically both.

      That being said, these are themselves pretty broad terms and, as you point out, ma not be the same from one candidate to the next. Economically liberal could be farm subsidies or it could mean anti-trade positions. Social conservatism could merely mean “tough on crime” or it could mean something much more comprehensive.

      What would need to happen for a Populist Party to succeed is for another party to primed to be cannibalized. If the Republicans lose a sufficient number of elections, they will eventually find a message that will bring enough people back under the tent to win again. Some like to think that this will be a libertarian philosophy. I’m more inclined to believe it will be the exact opposite. They have less far to go.Report

      • Today, any issue that isn’t receiving sufficient elite attention becomes a populist cause. As MZ points out, this means that a pretty inconsistent grab-bag of issues can be labeled populist. This is precisely the advantage of having a populist party. It could set priorities, outline national goals, etc. No political party needs to be coherent, but it usually needs a set of principles it can use to justify political trade-offs.Report

  4. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    A porch pac might be interesting. I’d actually like to see a Front Porch publishing house. I’d like to have an anthology of their best writings on my shelf.Report

  5. Avatar North says:

    It’d be great to see a populist third party, or a third party anything that was viable competition to the current duality of American politics. That said it strikes me as unlikely. The structural setup of the current system allows one party or the other the flexibility to encroach on any turf that is identified as viable by an upstart third party. Unless a third party can rise to prominence in a single election cycle one of the existing big two will swoop in and such the oxygen out of their political niche.Report

  6. Avatar Simon K says:

    Use of “economically liberal” to mean left-of-center makes my head hurt …Report