Immigration Behind Global Populism?

By Zakaria, Fareed | Charleston Gazette Mail, December 9, 2016 | Go to article overview

Immigration Behind Global Populism?


Zakaria, Fareed, Charleston Gazette Mail


NEW YORK - A joke among journalists is that we are taught to count: "one, two, trend." But at this point, I think it's fair to say we are witnessing a populist trend around the world. The real question is, what is fueling its extraordinary rise? Almost a month after Donald Trump's election, Europeans went to the polls, with mixed results. Italians voted against everything - the establishment, the European Union and, by extension, their centrist, reform-minded prime minister, Matteo Renzi. Austrian voters, by contrast, rejected the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer. But it was still startling that his Freedom Party - whose first leader was a former Nazi minister and SS member - received 46 percent of the national vote. Over the last few years, almost everywhere in Europe - from France to the Netherlands to Germany - right-wing populist parties have gained ground.

In most of the continent, populists still seem unlikely to take power because they cannot replicate Trump's success in getting control of a mainstream political party. European parties are internally strong and have mechanisms to block such a hostile takeover. American political parties, on the other hand, since the advent of primaries, have become nothing more than vessels for popular politicians. Once it was clear that Trump would win the Republican nomination, the party structure folded and became his executive arm.

Supporters of Trump and other populist movements often point to economics as the key to their success - the slow recovery, wage stagnation, the erosion of manufacturing jobs, and rising inequality. These are clearly powerful contributing factors. But it is striking that we see right-wing populism in Sweden, which is doing well economically; in Germany, where manufacturing remains robust; and in France, where workers have many protections. Here in America, exit polls showed that the majority of voters who were most concerned about the economy cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton.

The one common factor present everywhere, however, is immigration. In fact, one statistical analysis of European Union countries found that more immigrants invariably means more populists. According to the study, if you extrapolate from current trends, "as the percentage of immigrants approaches approximately 22 percent, the percentage of right-wing populist voters exceeds 50 percent. …

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