Why so many missed the nationalist surge

Education shapes attitudes toward diversity. In most Western democracies, people with college and professional degrees tend to be comfortable with immigrants. From their standpoint, what’s not to like? The local cuisine improves; declining neighborhoods spring back to life; walking their city’s streets is more interesting.

Educated professionals’ easy acceptance of demographic diversity is part of a larger reality: They don’t fear change. Experience has taught them that they can adjust and even turn change to their advantage.

Not so for people with less education, many of whom see change as threatening. In their local stores, they encounter shoppers and soon counter clerks who are not fluent in their language. The immigrants’ manner is unfamiliar, and often their dress is too. These surface differences suggest deeper cultural disjunctions. “I feel like a stranger in my own country” is a familiar refrain among people who want things to stay the way they have been for ages.

National demography increasingly reflects these divisions between more-educated and less-educated classes. People with education—especially young people—have been drawn to urban centers as hubs of innovation as well as diversity. Meanwhile, older and less-educated people have remained in small towns and rural areas. The clash between the city and the countryside has been a staple of politics since classical antiquity, but now it has resurfaced full-force.

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