Donald Trump

Trump, Political Science, and the 'Basket of Deplorables'

How a billionaire rode a rising tide of populism to the White House.


Judith Bicking/Dreamstime

"The only antidote to decades of ruinous rule by a small handful of elites is a bold infusion of popular will. On every major issue affecting this country, the people are right and the governing elite are wrong," wrote Donald Trump in an April op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. That could be a textbook definition of populism.

Two political scientists—J. Eric Oliver of the University of Chicago and Wendy M. Rahn of the University of Minnesota—define populist rhetoric as a style "that pits a virtuous 'people' against nefarious, parasitic elites who seek to undermine the rightful sovereignty of the common folk." They add, "A populist moment requires the right rhetoric spoken by the right person to the right audience at the right time. And, as we look to the data, the 2016 election has all the hallmarks of a populist moment." Tuesday's vote proved them right.

Consider a post-election television interview of Trump voters from central Virginia, where I live. "People want the people to be in control of the country, not the politicians," Greene County resident Chad Aylor told WCAV-TV. The report noted that "for Aylor, voting Trump was not against Clinton or voting Republican. Aylor said he considers himself voting as an American." Trump trounced Clinton 62 to 31 percent in the mostly rural county.

So why is 2016 the right time for populism? University of Georgia political scientist Cas Mudde argues that "populism is an illiberal democratic response to undemocratic liberalism." Populism, he suggests, criticizes "the exclusion of important issues from the political agenda by the elites." Oliver and Rahn agree, proposing that populism arises "when existing political parties are not responding to the desires of large sections of the electorate." This opens up a "representation gap" that can be exploited by a would-be populist leader.

Oliver and Rahn measure this gap with polling data. People are asked whether they agree with such statements as "Public officials don't care much about what people like me think" and "People like me don't have any say about what the government does." They found higher percentages of Americans agreeing with such sentiments as the 21st century advanced.

They also compared those responses to the degree of partisan conflict in Congress, which they gauged by tracking the number of strict party-line votes. The idea is that the representation gap grows as the distance between the major parties' core supporters and swing voters grows larger. They find that such a gap opened in the early 1990s, which saw the entrance of such populists as Ross Perot and Pat Buchanan. The representation gap in 2016 was even larger.

To get a handle on the degree of populism represented by U.S. presidential candidates from both major parties, Oliver and Rahn analyzed the announcement speeches of the top seven candidates, including Trump, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Hillary Clinton, and Ben Carson. They looked for "anti-establishment" and "blame" language, along with rhetoric signifying the creation of a unified people. In addition, they measured the simplicity and "everydayness" of the candidates' language—basically, shorter sentences and shorter words.

Trump and Sanders used considerably more blame language, with Sanders focusing more on economic grievances and Trump on political transgressions. Trump made more "we-they" contrasts and pointed more often to international threats than the other candidates did. Trump and Kasich used fewer words that were longer than 6 letters, and Trump's sentences averaged 10 words in length. Sentences from Sanders and Rubio were twice as long.

"Trump scores high in targeting political elites, blame language, invoking both foreign threats and collective notions of 'our' and 'they,' and the simplicity and repetition of his language," report Oliver and Rahn. In contrast, they find that Sanders uses more complex locutions and fewer we-they contrasts. "While Sanders may be 'populist' in a strictly economic sense, his language is not nearly as 'of the people' as either Carson's or Trump's," they conclude.

What made Trump best able to take on the mantle of the populist tribune? Oliver and Rahn point to several traits common to populist leaders. They invoke a sense of crisis, and they claim to speak for a "silent majority" of ordinary people ignored and dominated by "arrogant elites, corrupt politicians, and strident minorities." Oliver and Rahn note that "populists employ a distinctive style, one that is simple, direct, emotional, and frequently indelicate." The populist disrupts normal dinner-table conversation like a "drunken guest" with "bad manners"; his followers treat this lack of decorum as evidence of authenticity. Members of the establishment, by contrast, perceive such pugnaciousness as demagoguery that encourages undemocratic sentiments.

In 2016, Oliver and Rahn report, many Americans were receptive to populist appeals. In February and March, they surveyed more than 1,000 voters to assess their degree of anti-elitism, mistrust of expertise, and nativism. They asked respondents to rate such statements as "The system is stacked against people like me," "When it comes to really important questions, scientific facts don't help very much," and "It would be unwise to trust the judgments of the American people for today's complicated political issues." Trump supporters scored highest on nativism and mistrust of expertise and second highest on anti-elitism. In contrast, Sanders' supporters scored lowest on nativism and mistrust of expertise, and highest on anti-elitism.

Oliver and Rahn

Other questions sought to determine attitudes toward ideology, anger at the federal government, anomie, nativism, conspiracism, and fundamentalism. Ideology ranged from very liberal to very conservative. Respondents were asked if they were pleased, satisfied, indifferent, frustrated, or angry about federal government performance. Their degree of anomie was determined by asking if they believed most people are trustworthy or would take advantage of them if given the chance. Nativism was assessed by asking whether too many immigrants were criminals and if they were more of a burden than a benefit to America. Conspiracism was probed with questions about five conspiracy theories. And fundamentalism was reckoned with queries about Biblical inerrancy and endtimes prophesies. In addition, financial pessimism was evaluated by asking, among other things, if respondents thought that that their children's standard living would be better or worse than theirs.

Trump voters scored highest on financial pessimism, nativism, anomie, and conspiracism and second highest on anger. (Cruz voters were angrier at the federal government.) Clinton voters were nearly the exact opposite. Sanders voters were financially optimistic, were not angry at the government, and scored lowest of all on nativism, but exhibited a slight penchant for anomie and conspiracism.

Oliver and Rahn concluded that "Donald Trump stands out in particular as the populist par excellence."

In September, Hillary Clinton cluelessly declared, "You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump's supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right? The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic—you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up." With the Democratic Party firmly in the hands of the coastal elites, Trump seized the Republican Party and rode the rising tide of populism. In that sense, the election of 2016 was the revolt of Clinton's deplorables. We will be living with results of that rebellion for the next four years.

NEXT: UPenn Created a Post-Election Safe Space Complete with Puppies and Coloring Books

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  1. We will be living with results of that rebellion for the next four years.

    Longer than that. When he screws everything up and the backlash hits, all of the progtard politicians that get voted in as a result will be the actual results of this abortion of an election.

      1. WHY THAT’S ALMOST 8%!!!

        1. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do…

      2. 1917-1921 all over again.

    1. I think we should have been forced to carry this election to term. America made its slutty little bed so it should have to lie in it.

      1. This just goes to show, abortion is never the answer.

    2. What if things improve? We’ll need to walk around looking up for plummeting pundits.

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  2. An absolutely normal outcome of an expanding government. When it’s small and only intrudes a little, it’s easy to ignore because the targeted benefits are so few and seem so reasonable, while the distributed costs are so puny as to hardly exist in most people’s minds. But that attitude of ignoring it only encourages further growth, and as it intrudes more, the benefits target more and more people, which makes more and more people want their own piece of the action, while the distributed costs rise and rise and make more and more people angry.

    Eventually things o crazy, and I’d say we reached that stage this century, with the crazy prescription scam, TARP and the other bailouts, and the way out of line expansion of all the crazy EPA, Army Corps of Engineers, global warming, food, cars, health care, and all the other regulations. I wouldn’t be surprised if government regulations have doubled during Obama’s reign alone, not to mention Bush II.

    1. Another aspect of growing bureaucracy is that they and their elected bosses become increasingly isolated from reality and the mood of the country. They have staffers to keep them free from the affects of their laws, they can’t see the frustration build up, they just keep piling on the regulations without any thought to how previous regulations have worked out, and the backlash grows and grows until people like Bernie and Trump come along.

      Bernie and trump got the votes, not Rand or Amash, because everyone is so fed up that they think it impossible to shrink government, and besides, their frustrations make it seem inevitable that shrinking will be uneven, and they think their chances are better at redistributing the stolen pie than shrinking it fairly.

      I bet that IFFFF people were 100% assured that a 90% or 99% cut would be evenly distributed, IFFF it were as inevitable and guaranteed as the sun rising — most people would go for shrinkage than redistribution. But a life time of increasing pie and increasingly partisan redistribution has destroyed any such expectations.

      1. S: It seems that the number of final rules published in the Federal Register has grown from around 60,000 in 2008 to 94,000 as of 2015.

        1. Imagine the world with only 92,000!

          You Americans barely dodged the Apocalypse in 2015, only to get Trumped. For shame…

        2. Damn that’s a depressing link. But if I were looking for bright sides, I’d say that at least something continues to grow, and that the only excuse I can think of for the economy still functioning is an increased shadow economy.

          1. Until cash is outlawed.

        3. See, government can be efficient!

        4. Ron — Thanks for posting the link to final rules in the Federal Register. This is an important point. Essentially, the people writing all of these rules have a belief that they are able to manage an incredibly complex, organic entity, namely the economy. This is exactly the “top men” and “adults are now in charge” sort of claims that the left loves to make when they have electoral success. But it is followed by 2000 page bills which stipulate conditions on private contracts which neither the buyer nor the seller would agree to if able to freely contract. A close reading of Hayek should be mandatory for all bureaucrats.

      2. I’ve been meaning to read this.

        What Washington Gets Wrong

        Each year unelected federal administrators write thousands of regulations possessing the force of law. What do these civil servants know about the American people whom they ostensibly serve? Not much, according to this enlightening and disturbing study.


      3. Don’t forget that Washington DC is one of the richest areas in the country.

        Working at NASA – it used to be that contractors made more but civil servants had job security. Now civil servants make 20% at the same level and can never be fired.

        1. “…can never be fired.”

          Not entirely true, though there’s a lengthy process to go through aimed at reforming the employee’s behaviour.

          I just witnessed one getting escorted out of my workplace; released for poor work performance. His building access was revoked immediately and base access was to be revoked the next day.

          That was the first firing I saw in 14 years of fedgov work…

      4. Meh, I bet a lot of ‘the people’ wouldn’t go for shrinkage. In some measure they blame a mysterious cabal of (probably Jewish) fatcats for their problems, left and right. I once listened to a socialist law professor (yo’d think he’d be halfway intelligent at least) talk mystically about the hundreds of billions of dollars that ‘disappeared’ because of the 2008 financial crisis. “Where’d it all go?” He asked. I don’t think he’d want to believe it if I explained to him that it didn’t disappear; it never existed in the first place. It would remove a central villain form his narrative. And it’s to protect us from villains like them (and to punish them) that we need Donald Trump, many believe.

        1. The central problem is that the benefits of reduced government are abstract and often distal or indirect. Less gov spending means lower interest rates in the credit market and therefore a more productive economy, lower prices, better jobs. But that’s opaque compared to the very specific job someone will lose if the government agency he works at loses funding. What’s more, the damage incurred for each specific government job or government benefit are so thinly distributed across the population that you can’t point to a specific person being thoroughly emiserated by a specific government action most of the time, the way you can point to a disemployed auto worker losing his job because the gov won’t bail out his company. In politics people mostly reason emotively; they will often choose to inflict a broadly spread out a tax on countless millions of nameless, faceless, abstract people, amounting to enormous sums of money, in order render even a slight service to a single unfortunate person with a name and a face.

        2. No, the only time money “disappeared” was when after 9/11 a money spigot was opened and it poured into this big black pit and nobody bothered to question what was at the bottom of the pit, because the people who opened the pit said it was for “National Security”.

      5. Scarecrow, You have hit it right on the nose. Well put, and (I think) absolutely correct in both of your comments above. Thanks!

    1. +1, USA Today front page story!

      Did anyone else see the USA Today this morning? It detailed the racist Trump supporters who are acting out across the country since his election. It would have been a good Onion post.

      Front page picture:…../93584210/

      1. The one thing about being perpetual political outsiders is that, despite always being irritated with whoever wins, we do gain some objectivity.

        I do not believe that this is anything but progs trying to stir shit to retain their base. Hate is the only thing keeping their coalition together and if people were to realize that white people aren’t their enemy, their party would probably be doomed.

        When the footage O’Keefe managed to get of operatives working to incite violence at Trump rallies surfaced, they lost all credibility and sympathy they could have reaped. Nobody is going to believe them now. Fuck them and their false flag operations.

        One can only wonder how many false flags they use on libertarians to keep us down.

        1. I don’t think they have to use too many. Most people find it batshit crazy to think that one shouldn’t vote against something just because one finds it personally objectionable.

          “I like Candidate Public’s stance against drugs. I think drugs are bad, so they ought to be illegal.”

        2. Zero, Sorry to say, but there is no reason for anyone to expend time or effort on false flag ops against Libertarians. When they choose a Prog as their VP nominee, and he goes on to endorse the absolute worst candidate in the race (from another party no less), the Libertarians do not need any help shooting themselves in the foot.

      2. Come on, FFS. Are you that stupid?

      3. Ugh… ignore my post. I didn’t notice the context.

        1. Too late. You already hurt JWatts’ feelings. Now you’re not invited to his birthday party.

  3. Don’t know about the “virtuous people” part, but the “nefarious, parasitic elites who seek to undermine the rightful sovereignty of the common folk” is evident to all but the high-IQ idiots of the power-worshiping chattering class, and asskissing wannabes. But even the thugish members of the political class understand the free-rider problem they have as a collective – parasites have difficulty, game-theory-wise, to coordinate in order to keep the host healthy enough. There is an inherent instability to the equilibrium in the parasite game that occasionally shows itself. Rules and institutions have grown to channel and restrain the thug-state practitioners. In political markets there is a type of evolution and spontaneous order. Sure, Trumpism is a shake up, but not close to the guillotine. Yet. That’s a threat always lurking, and the political class knows it.

  4. “and they claim to speak for a “silent majority” of ordinary people ignored and dominated by “arrogant elites, corrupt politicians, and strident minorities.””

    You do realize that Trump’s election is evidence that there was a silent majority who weren’t speaking to the pollsters but did show up to vote.

    1. JWatts, I think they don’t want to realize that.

    2. yeh…funny that.

      Whoda thunk that there were enough people sick and tired of the business-as-usual DC BS to actually vote for the candidate promising to stop the business-as-usual DC BS. Who was, also, the first candidate in the general to actually promise to stop the business-as-usual DC BS in at least the last 25 years. Before that I frankly didn’t care enough to pay attention, so maybe it was longer.

    3. They were silent, but they weren’t a majority, at least not nationwide.

    4. Looks to me like the silent majority stayed home in disgust. I mean Trump got 47% of small turnout.

      1. ^This.

      2. Which means… there’s a silent majority of libertarians?!

        The moment, it’s here, it’s finally here!

    5. This is not actually supported by the data. It’s much more accurate to say that the people who voted for Obama didn’t show up to vote for Hillary.

      1. … which they weren’t taking into account all those polls that were wrong.

      2. Something I’m finding hilarious is the progtards railing against white women because they leaned towards Trump by a few points. Their heads assplode when you respond with “Yeah, those white women are treacherous, alright! Thank goodness we narrowly avoided putting one in the Oval office!”


  5. Another case of academia soothing the butthurt of Top. Men. after a righteous ass kicking from hoi polloi.

    1. H: They published their analysis two months ahead of the election. Just saying.

      1. It was confirmation for them before; it’s soothing salve now.

        1. To their credit, the article seems to be fairly open-minded about the true motivations of Trump voters (as opposed to ‘they’re racist, sexist, morons with severe Oedipus complexes’ or something; and somewhat critical of the progressive elite, calling it ‘undemocratic liberalism.’ Though I would call it ‘undemocratic social democracy.’ Or maybe undemocratic anti-social social democracy.’ I’ve always understood the word ‘liberal’ when juxtaposed to ‘illiberal’ to refer to classical liberalism, rather than the political left.

  6. In September, Hillary Clinton cluelessly declared, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic…”

    Your first mistake was: being a person who thinks like this.

  7. How bizarre is it that Michael Moore has become the voice of reason for the Democrats. Is he the only one that doesn’t live in a big city?…

    1. Moore for all his faults actually goes out and talk to the hoi polloi. He could see how pissed most people were.

      1. Moore is part of an apparently dwindling breed of Democrats (along with Sanders I’d say) who identify more with the working class in the supposed battle against the capitalists, rather than with the whining, well-to-do, university-educated professional victim groups. They are, therefore, marginally more sympathetic to the frustrations of the working class people that put Trump in office.

        1. Indeed. Most of the new breed of liberals find it easy to support things like unrestricted immigration and the taking in of possible security threats, because they believe those virtue-signalling policies won’t affect them. They live in gated communities and high-rise lofts, out of the unwashed masses whom they claim to support openly, yet talk shit about them behind their backs. They took Hillary’s advice about having a public and private position to heart.

    2. He’s not the voice of reason. He’s still a raging moron. You can tell because no matter what supposed “insight’ he has about Trump winning, his solutions always come back to the same thing: oppose Trump and conservatives to your dying breath, and support Democrats, big government and labor unions.

      1. Well, we can at least recognize that he’s aware of the problem, despite his obstinate refusal to imagine an actual solution.


  8. populist rhetoric as a style “that pits a virtuous ‘people’ against nefarious, parasitic elites who seek to undermine the rightful sovereignty of the common folk.”

    I never thought of the truth as a style before.

  9. “the revolt of Clinton’s deplorables”

    I love it!
    “Revolt Of The Deplorables”
    Coming to a White House near you!

  10. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….


    1. Spammers are deplorable. I hope some SJW splatters you with red paint.


  11. I find the plethora of “How Trump Won” type articles amusing, considering that virtually none of the people writing them were wise enough to know Trump would win on Tuesday morning.

    If I want a “How Trump Won” article, I’ll ask Scott Adams, thanks very much.

    1. He sure got it right. Very perceptive guy. Reason should feature a post election interview with Adams.

  12. The Trumpire Strikes Back

  13. How does it get to be labeled a “populous” movement when Trump didn’t attract any more voters that Romney did?
    For every voter the Republican candidate gained, he must have lost one.
    This with the backdrop of an overall population increase of 9 million, since 2012.

    1. Yeah, given the fact that Trump got a lower turnout than Romney, the progs really can’t pretend that this was anything other than their own failure.

      Sooner or later, the people won’t eat the Turd Sandwich, even if the alternative is a Giant Douche.


    2. Well, a significant percentage of that 9 million was latinos, and latinos just don’t care much about voting.

      1. Latinos did turn out more than ever before, but they already live in blue states. It made no difference at all. Turnout was down in the states not hotly contested, but I think the data suggests turnout was high in the Midwest states where Trump pulled the upset

    3. I keep seeing this and ultimately it might actually be true, but I think that formulation is probably a touch simplistic without knowing all the factors. It’s possible that it took a populist surge just to get trump up to the point where he only got a few fewer overall voters than Romney did. IOW, he could’ve lost a ton of Romney voters and then made that back with populist voters.

  14. So he really is a billionaire, not just a walking publicity stunt?

  15. Poor closing and juxtaposition of thoughts imputes the implicit prejudice.
    “Trump seized the Republican Party and rode the rising tide of populism. In that sense, the election of 2016 was the revolt of Clinton’s deplorables”, which, as you quoted Clinton, equals “the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic?you name it.”
    Wow, I just never realized there were 60 million of that vermin throughout the U.S. Hell, that’s 1 in 5 walking the streets!

    Cripe, you still don’t get it.

  16. I have likened Trump to the Lich King from World of Warcraft. Essentially, if something should happen to him, and Pence becomes President, a Scourge will be unleashed. A Scourge of theocratic domination. An assassination or impeachment of Trump will doom us all.

    1. lolol (and kek)!

      Both the analogy and the prediction are ludicrously overwrought. “Theocratic domination?” You’ve been drinking way too much of the leftist KoolAid.

      1. I’m not a leftist, I just oppose being told how to live on religious grounds, on secular grounds, or on any grounds really.

        1. You don’t have to be a leftist to be influenced by their propaganda. The idea that Pence would or could impose “theocratic domination” is utterly ludicrous.

          1. I’ve heard that. I’ve heard that Pence has a wet noodle for a spine, and that he’ll fold when pushed. Still, doesn’t mean he can’t surround himself with people that actually do have spines.

            1. Fine, but you’re using the plot of a World of Warcraft expansion to predict possible outcomes of domestic politics. This is shaky ground.

    2. Snopes actually says some of the reports about Pence, like the one that he favored electroshock as a gay conversion therapy, are lies.

      1. Of course those statements weren’t true. He wanted to EXECUTE them!!!


  17. As a political science major (who is now a web developer) let me be the first to say that political science is great for having debates and discussions with people about neat stuff, but it’s pretty shit at predicting anything and its explanatory ability is about on par with anybody who has interacted with more than seven people in their lives. As others said, just remember that all of the experts conducting the post-mortem on the 2016 election and applying various paradigms to the numerous statistical data are the same people who failed to predict Trump’s victory.

    1. Political science in the 1990s starting focusing too much on trying to make it a ‘science’. Which is absurd given you’re dealing with, you know, FUCKEN HUMAN NATURE.

      You can’t put them into a neat equation.

      The art of understanding human nature Macchiavelli style is a lost art.

      The obsession with the imperfect polls interpreted by people who were not infallible showed this perfectly.

  18. It’s OK.

    They are going to award Hillary a blue ribbon and a trophy for participation.

  19. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….


  20. until I looked at the paycheck saying $4730 , I did not believe that…my… brother woz like actualy bringing in money part time from there computar. . there friend brother started doing this for less than 7 months and resently paid for the morgage on there home and bought a new Cadillac …….


  21. I get Paid over ?80 per hour working from home with 2 kids at house. I Never thought I would be able to do it but my best friend earns over ?9185 a month doing this and she convinced me to try. The potential with this is endless.


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