2016 was a year of unexpected political events. Britain decided to leave the European Union (“Brexit”), and Donald Trump became the president of the United States.
People without university degrees strongly favoured Trump and Brexit
Exit polls following both Brexit and Trump votes revealed that University education was one of the strongest predictors of voting patterns.
According to a BBC report, wards where the population had lower numbers of University graduates tended to vote for Britain to leave the European Union. In fact, of the main demographic information collected in the most recent UK census, the proportion of University graduates in a given ward was the best indicator of whether people voted in favour of Brexit.
Similarly, Trump won 44 of the 50 counties with the lowest rates of tertiary education in the US. In contrast, only 10 of the 50 counties with the higest rates of tertiary education voted for Trump.
So why did British and American citizens without a University degree vote in favour of Brexit and Trump?
In the U.S. the disparity in job availability between people with and without University Degrees has risen since the 2008 recession
A prominent complaint among Trump voters was that the previous government had been “out of touch” with the working class. At least one aspect in which this appears to be true is in relation to unemployment numbers following the recession of 2008. In his final State of the Union address President Obama proudly proclaimed that America was in the middle of “the longest streak of private sector job creation in history”, and that anyone claiming America’s economy is in decline was “peddling fiction”.
It is certainly true that America saw significant growth in private sector jobs during Obama’s presidency. Yet there is increasing evidence that these jobs disproportionately went to people with University qualifications. According to a recent study conducted at Georgetown University, U.S. workers with Bachelor’s degrees or higher lost 187,000 jobs in the recession, but then recovered around 8.4 million jobs in the years since. In stark contrast, workers with a high-school diploma or less, lost 5.6 million jobs in the recession, and recovered only 80,000 to date. From the perspective of these Americans, who lost their jobs during the recession and never got them back, it is easy to imagine how Obama’s statements on jobs growth could be perceived as “out of touch”.
Workers with more than a high school education gained almost all of the jobs added in the recovery
(Source: Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce, America's Divided Recovery)
The views of university educated people are over-represented in government and the media
One notable aspect of this divided recovery since the recession is that, in both the U.K. and U.S., university educated people are still a minority. In fact, according to census data from both countries, the proportion of all adults holding a University degree is around 33% in the U.S., and 20% in the U.K. If the voices of people without University degrees do indeed represent the majority, how did democratic government policies (which are meant to be influenced by majority opinion) lead to so many falling through the cracks during the years following the recession?
One explanation may be that the under-representation of non-University educated individuals in government and the media meant that these institutions were not properly equipped to understand the needs of non-University graduates. At least 90% of members of parliament in both the U.S. and the U.K. have University degrees. A study in the U.S. also found that over 90% of journalists are University graduates. It is also possible that this over-representation of University educated interests was an underlying driver of one of the key themes in both the Trump and Brexit elections – a desire to overthrow the political establishment.
What does this mean for Australia?
Senator Pauline Hanson (leader of the One-Nation party) has often been compared to Trump. Indeed, a study conducted by the ABC, found that, like in the U.S. and U.K., people living in areas with low tertiary education levels were more likely to vote for One-Nation in the 2016 Federal Election.
Although not as pronounced as the U.K. or U.S., Australia is also experiencing disproportionate job growth for University educated workers. To a certain extent, this disproportionate increase in jobs requiring a University degree may be an unavoidable reality for many modern industrialised nations. As countries get more developed, higher basic wages often mean that it becomes less viable for companies to continue manufacturing goods there. Higher wages also mean that companies are driven to adopt automation in order to cut costs.
However, in the face of such rapid changes, we also need to ensure that our political institutions adapt accordingly, so that they do not become out of touch with the interests of certain sections of our society. As with the U.S. and U.K., the disproportionate increase in jobs requiring tertiary degrees, combined with a lack of representation of the voices non-University graduates in our institutions may lead to the division of our own politics by University education.
The first step in communicating across this divide is realising that lack of representativeness is a problem. It is also essential to ensure that there are conventional institutional avenues in government and the media by which less well-educated communities can express grievances and needs, and meaningfully participate in public discourse.
Understanding group conflict and moral polarization is a major focus of my PhD.
- Joshua Rhee
Joshua Rhee is a PhD Candidate at The University of Melbourne's School of Psychological Sciences. He completed his Honours research in the Social Change Lab in 2016.
From Indonesia to Australia, many modern States face demands by majority religious groups to have their beliefs institutionally prioritised.
For example, in their submission to the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Melbourne Gospel Assembly stated that the Australian government is obligated to respect the Christian religion as its first and foremost responsibility.
Similar calls have been made by Islamist groups in Muslim majority countries. The poll investigating whether the Sharia (Islamic social order) should be made the official law in Muslim majority countries revealed a widespread support, with 99% in Afghanistan, 83% in Morocco, and 71% in Nigeria.
Followers of a religion may identify with their religious group. Likewise, citizens of a country may identify with their national group.
In many countries, religion plays its role in providing values that delineate nationalism. However, there are also religious movements that utterly reject nationalism and struggle instead for a religion-based state.
So what makes religious and national identities support one other? And what makes them destroy each other? My research points to 3 key factors.
Historical context shapes ideas about the relationship between religion and nation
A state must emerge from the collaboration of many groups who work together.
Indonesian history, for instance, has been constructed by many groups representing various tribes, political ideologies, and religions. Islam, as the religion of the majority in Indonesia, has strongly influenced the establishment of the Republic.
As a result, most Indonesian Muslims today believe that their Islamic faith and Indonesian nationalism are two sides of the same coin, even though Islamic social order does not formally rule the country. This belief stems from the historical consensus that established divine values as the primary foundation of the Indonesian state. Further, most Muslims perceive that the Indonesian state is the outcome of the early Muslims' struggle.
Such historical beliefs strengthen the connection between religious and national identities, meaning an individual’s self-image may be developed based on both religion and nation. This pattern might be found in many countries where religious values supported the struggle to establish the state.
Not all countries, however, show this reciprocal relationship between religious belief and national identity.
A study conducted across thirty European countries showed that nationalism influences religious values only where there is a high concentration of religion. Further, nationalist ideology only affects religious beliefs where a dominant religion exists.
What factors support religious movements to reject their nationality and demand a radical change of the existing state?
Religious fundamentalism may lead to national dis-identification
Religious fundamentalism has been proposed as a factor influencing the relationship between religious and national identities.
Religious identification and religious fundamentalism are not the same.
We define fundamentalism here as one set of cognitive schemas that filters the selection of information to provide a framework for interpretation. This set of schemas promotes beliefs that religious rules allow only one interpretation and must be prioritized over secular laws. It can also lead to bigotry and hostility toward outgroups.
Religious beliefs have been demonstrated to promote national dis-identification among people high in religious identity. People who are high in fundamentalist beliefs about their religion (i.e., belief that God has given humanity a complete, unfailing guide, which must be totally followed) may identify more with their religion but less with their nation. Such people conceive religious norms as God’s rules, while national rules are seen as political outcomes representing particular interests.
Perceived discrimination can promote dis-identification
Some European countries are facing difficulties in integrating the religious and national identities of their immigrants within their national identity.
Low political participation in a general election can be an indicator of dis-identification with the nation. Many efforts have been exerted to improve civic engagement among immigrants, for example through the mobilisation of mosques.
However, societal factors such as perceived discrimination and injustice also play a role in national dis-identification.
Group based discrimination and injustice can be a catalyst for heightening tensions, provoking anger and disappointment. Even when discrimination is not sanctioned by the state and is only promoted by a small group of political actors, the negative feelings can be attributed to the imagined concept of the nation. On a certain scale, group-based anger can be expressed in reluctance to provide political participation.
In this way, immigrants who are highly identified with their religion, and who perceive discrimination based on religion, may become dis-identified with the nation. In contrast, feelings of freedom and inclusion can create a positive association between religiosity and nationalism.
To summarise, the relationship between religious and national identities is complex. Historical contexts may fuse national and religious identities, while fundamentalist beliefs or societal tensions and group discrimination may cause them to diverge.
Exploring the difference between religion as a bridge and religion as a wall is part of the focus in my PhD.
- Susilo Wibisono
All researchers in the Social Change Lab contribute to the "Do Good" blog. Click the author's name at the bottom of any post to learn more about their research or get in touch.
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