decades in the making
A new study combining historical data on demography and ideology in 21 Western democracies implies that the rise of right-wing populists like former President Donald Trump and events like Brexit "were not an abrupt departure from precedent, but rather the consequence of a 60-year-old international trend," The Economist writes. In other words, the paper, co-authored by Thomas Piketty, Amory Gethin, and Clara Martinez-Toledano, makes Trump's 2016 election victory "look like a historical inevitability."
The main finding of the paper — which like any academic study has its critics — is that "income and education began diverging as predictors of ideology" decades ago. Back in 1955, for example, "both the richest and the most educated voters tended to support conservative parties," while "poorer and less-educated people mostly chose labor or social-democratic" parties. But over time, and with "striking" consistency, the most highly-educated voters moved toward the left-wing parties, while those with less schooling "slid the other way." The wealthiest voters maintained their support of conservative parties, giving the right a "coalition" of the rich and those with less education, paving the way for politics as you know them today.
The shift appears to be global, Michigan State University's Matt Grossman noted on Twitter, but the United States "stands out as moving from almost no left/right division on education and a large division on income in 1970 to a large division on education and almost no division on income by 2010."