Researchers baffled by nationalist surge

“It was just a matter of time before someone sought to tap into the rich electoral potential inside of a group of people as sizeable as the white working class,” says Justin Gest, a political scientist at George Mason University in Arlington, Virginia. His polling this year suggests that 65% of white US voters would support a hypothetical new protectionist and xenophobic political party. Gest adds that Trump prevailed in part because he gave voters somebody to blame for their economic woes.

Some academics have explored potential parallels between the roots of the current global political shift and the rise of populism during the Great Depression, including in Nazi Germany. But Helmut Anheier, president of the Hertie School of Governance in Berlin, cautions that the economic struggles of middle-class citizens across the West today are very different, particularly in mainland Europe.

The Nazis took advantage of the extreme economic hardship that followed the First World War and a global depression, but today’s populist movements are growing powerful in wealthy European countries with strong social programmes. “What brings about a right-wing movement when there are no good reasons for it?”Anheier asks.