Since the election of Donald Trump and, to a lesser extent, the Brexit referendum, there’s been a fierce debate about what caused these political earthquakes. Are the drivers of these votes primarily economic or cultural? The economic side of the argument is the more popular one. Consider, for example, the stereotypical Trump voter: someone probably in the Midwest who has been on the sharp end of globalisation. He has struggled to find work since deindustrialisation rendered his skills redundant. He is one of the losers of recent economic history.
Eric Kaufmann, Professor of Politics at Birkbeck College, London, thinks this caricature is badly wrong. His new book Whiteshift is attracting plenty of attention – and praise – for the more uncomfortable conclusion it draws: that recent ruptures like Trump and Brexit can be almost entirely explained by identity, not economics. According to Kaufmann, they are a consequence of demographic change. The white majority is declining and as it does so, it feels culturally threatened. That, he argues forcefully, is why the anti-immigrant message of candidates like Trump is so appealing.
For the podcast this week, I met Eric in his Bickbeck office to talk about the ideas in his monumental and thorough study of a difficult subject.
You can listen to the full episode here, subscribe via iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts