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Golfing with Trump. Social capital, decline, inequality, and the rise of populism in the US

Rodríguez-Pose, Andrés ORCID: 0000-0002-8041-0856, Lee, Neil ORCID: 0000-0002-4138-7163 and Lipp, Cornelius (2021) Golfing with Trump. Social capital, decline, inequality, and the rise of populism in the US. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 14 (3). 457 – 481. ISSN 1752-1378

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Identification Number: 10.1093/cjres/rsab026


In 2000, Robert Putnam forecast that United States (US) democracy was at risk from the twin challenges of declining civic engagement and rising interpersonal inequality. Sixteen years later, his predictions were vindicated by the election of Donald Trump as president of the US. This paper analyses the extent to which the 2016 election of Donald Trump—and his failed re-election bid in 2020—have been related to levels of social capital and interpersonal inequalities. We posit an alternative: that the rise in votes for Trump has been the result of long-term economic and population decline in areas with strong social capital. This hypothesis is confirmed by the econometric analysis conducted for US counties. Long-term declines in employment and population—rather than in earnings, salaries, or wages—in places with relatively strong social capital propelled Donald Trump to the presidency and almost secured his re-election. By contrast, low social capital and high interpersonal inequality were not connected to a surge in support for Trump. These results are robust to the introduction of control variables and different inequality measures. The analysis also shows that the discontent at the base of the Trump margin is not just a consequence of the 2008 crisis but had been brewing for a long time. Places in the US that remained cohesive but witnessed an enduring decline are no longer bowling alone, they have golfed with Trump and will, in all likelihood, continue to golf with Trumpism or other forms of populism.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2021 The Authors
Divisions: Geography & Environment
Subjects: J Political Science > JK Political institutions (United States)
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
JEL classification: D - Microeconomics > D3 - Distribution > D31 - Personal Income, Wealth, and Their Distributions
D - Microeconomics > D7 - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making > D72 - Economic Models of Political Processes: Rent-Seeking, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
O - Economic Development, Technological Change, and Growth > O1 - Economic Development > O15 - Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration
R - Urban, Rural, and Regional Economics > R1 - General Regional Economics > R11 - Regional Economic Activity: Growth, Development, and Changes
Date Deposited: 06 Oct 2021 16:03
Last Modified: 17 May 2024 04:27

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