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Analyst: Rural-urban divide is global

The rural-urban divide that was evident in the presidential election last week is not limited to the United States, but can be seen in many other countries, Henry Olsen of the Ethics & Public Policy Center said during a post-election webinar hosted by the American Enterprise Institute.

“The rural-urban divide is not an American phenomenon. It is a global phenomenon,” Olsen said.

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Henry Olsen

“Almost all Eastern European populism can be explained by it. If you live in or near a large city, you vote for a candidate that Berlin and Washington, D.C. like. And if you live outside of it you vote for a candidate or a party that is derided by those groups. The same thing is largely happening in Britain and happened in Italy and happened in Australia and Canada. People are making decisions based on new issues and new challenges that the old coalitions are having difficulty in handling, and you see the old coalitions breaking down.”

The question, Olsen continued, is “Do you feel you are not represented by the bipartisan elite that basically governed the western world from 1992 to 2008? The situation is not left versus right, but ‘in’ versus ‘out.’”

The “out” group can be multiracial, he said, but “it tends to be a non-college-educated group.”

“They are flocking to a party in the United States that can attract them. If in two years the elites that still tenuously govern most of the world — and Joe Biden’s election will be a restoration of that elite — haven’t handled COVID in a way that is putting people back to work, you’re going to see an intensification of populism that will shock Berlin and Washington again but won’t shock me.”

For lower income people, Olsen said, “the only question then is whether they will move to a populist left like in Ireland and other countries in Europe or move toward a populist right.”

Getting control of the coronavirus pandemic “is the major challenge of the Biden administration, and we’ll see if he and his people are up to it.”

Olsen said he did not know how permanent outgoing President Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party will be.

“At the end of the day, a person who is out of power has much less deference than a person who is in power,” Olsen said.

“The question is, how do the marginal Trump supporters — not the people who live and die by him but the people who have supported him largely — respond to him when two things happen.

“One, he is no longer the president so they don’t have to defend their party by defending him, and two, since he is no longer president there are other Republican figures who are coming out to say you can have everything you like with Trump without all of the things that annoy you — more Trump, less tweet or new, improved Trumpism.

“My bet is that President Trump’s personal brand drops.”

Olsen said he sees four factions in the Republican Party:

▪ Imperial successors — followers such as Vice President Mike Pence

▪ Restorationists who want the old party back, led by Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Nikki Haley, the former ambassador to the United Nations.

▪ Young reformers who like Trump’s politics but not his persona, led by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

▪ Moderate outsiders led by governors Charlie Baker of Massachusetts and Larry Hogan of Maryland.

Those factions will compete in Republican primaries, Olsen said.

“The sweet spot” in the Republican Party is combining Trumpian populism with movement conservatism, Olsen said, but the question is, what can attract “the crossover voters” who don’t vote in primaries but determine elections. Olsen acknowledged that he is aligned with the young reformers.

John Fortier of the Bipartisan Policy Center noted that recounts rarely change elections and that the coronavirus pandemic had not been as big a factor in the 2020 election as expected.

Norman Ornstein, an AEI senior fellow, said that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is not a particularly large portion of the party. He also said that the smaller size of the Democratic majority in the House will require the Democrats to be united.

But he added that if Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blocks progressive nominees to head federal agencies, that will put pressure on President-elect Joe Biden and frustrate progressives.

Michael Barone, an AEI emeritus fellow, noted that basing predictions on the political fundamentals in each state turned out to be better than basing predictions on polls that turned out to be wrong.

Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at AEI who moderated the panel, said the future of the polling industry is uncertain.

–The Hagstrom Report


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