How culture became the main fault line in American politics

Earlier this month, the Democracy Fund Voter Study Group’s Lee Drutman released a fascinating study that challenged many of the dominant assumptions about the 2016 election. Drutman’s data suggested that Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders voters were largely aligned on economic issues, and that the 2016 election was decided by issues of culture and identity, rather than economics. Drutman concluded that Donald Trump’s victory largely stemmed from his ability to drive populists to the polls by hammering home the importance of protecting America’s cultural identity and keeping immigrants out of the country.

The VSG study also explains the mystery behind the Obama-Trump voter—that odd figure who voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Donald Trump in 2016. According to Drutman’s studies, these were voters who simultaneously held prejudicial votes and relatively liberal economic views. In 2008 and 2012, they were forced to prioritize their values and, without a candidate running an explicitly prejudicial campaign, largely came down on the side of the Democrats. In Donald Trump, however, these populists found a political unicorn: a candidate who shared both their right-leaning cultural values and their left-leaning economic ones.

I talked to Drutman about the lessons of the 2016 election, the realignment currently taking place in American politics, and how Trump might fare in 2020. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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