Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Political populism and the revenge of the places that don’t matter

Earlier this year, Andrés Rodríguez-Pose (Twitter) published an interesting article where he points out to a pattern in the relationship between the outcomes of some national elections/referendums and the regional development inequalities in some countries. This is the core of Andrés' argument:
Persistent poverty, economic decay and lack of opportunities cause discontent in declining regions, while policymakers reason that successful agglomeration economies drive economic dynamism, and that regeneration has failed. This column argues that this disconnect has led many of these ‘places that don’t matter’ to revolt in a wave of political populism with strong territorial, rather than social, foundations.

According to Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, this help us understand the rise of populism we have recently witnessed in the national elections/referendums in Thailand, Germany, UK, France, USA and now in Italy. The strength of this apparently simple idea becomes evident when one looks at the spatial distribution of electoral outcomes vis-a-vis the social and economic disparities within those countries.

We have elections in Brazil this year. I’m looking forward to seeing whether the results are going to follow the pattern noted by Andrés. I’m afraid yes, but in a slightly different way. Like in many other countries, Brazil is also seeing the rise of a right-wing conservative populist wave. I believe this wave will be strong in the poorest regions and economically declining cities of the country, following the pattern of the "revenge of the places that don’t matter". However, my hunch is that this wave is going to be particularly strong in the rural areas that are thriving economically, not because of economic reasons but because these areas are traditionally conservative Moreover, I think it is really hard to say what is going to happen in the poor rural areas of the poorest stagnant regions of the country (North and Northeast). In the recent past, these regions have leaned towards the often populist center-left Labor Party, but the political importance of this party has been tremendously shaken in recent years due to corruption scandals and a a contentious impeachment process. If these regions keep their historical support to the Labor Party, this would contradict Andrés' conjecture.

These are only two small particularities that I think will make the Brazilian case diverge a bit from the pattern noted in the conjecture of the "revenge of the places that don’t matter". I might be wrong and I hope I am. In any case, the Brazilian election will be a good opportunity to put this conjecture to test.

image credit: Andrés Rodríguez-Pose

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