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Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict

Abstract : Using post-electoral surveys from France, Britain and the US, this paper documents a striking long-run evolution in the structure of political cleavages. In the 1950s-1960s, the vote for left-wing (socialist-labour-democratic) parties was associated with lower education and lower income voters. It has gradually become associated with higher education voters, giving rise to a “multiple-elite” party system in the 2000s-2010s: high-education elites now vote for the “left”, while high-income/high-wealth elites still vote for the “right” (though less and less so). I argue that this can contribute to explain rising inequality and the lack of democratic response to it, as well as the rise of “populism”. I also discuss the origins of this evolution (rise of globalization/migration cleavage, and/or educational expansion per se) as well as future prospects: “multiple-elite” stabilization; complete realignment of the party system along a “globalists” (high-education, high-income) vs “nativists” (low-education, low-income) cleavage; return to class-based redistributive conflict (either from an internationalist or nativist perspective). Two main lessons emerge. First, with multi-dimensional inequality, multiple political equilibria and bifurcations can occur. Next, without a strong egalitarian-internationalist platform, it is difficult to unite low-education, low-income voters from all origins within the same party.
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Submitted on : Monday, June 22, 2020 - 11:03:36 PM
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Thomas Piketty. Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict. 2018. ⟨hal-02878211⟩

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