Armin Schäfer reflects on what populism’s rise in Europe and the United States implies for how we view social class as a basis for voting and political partisanship. Drawing on recent studies, Schäfer shows growing disaffection among the working classes in established democracies concerning their sense of their ability to influence the policy decisions that affect them. Other research provides some evidence that the working class perceives their lack of political efficacy correctly—governing institutions respond far more to the preferences of the wealthy. In such a context, populist anger points to genuine democratic deficits.
Armin Schäfer is a professor of political science at the University of Osnabrück. He is co-organizer of the German Democratic Anxieties project, which collaborates closely with the SSRC. His work focuses on the interplay of social and political inequality in OECD countries. Before joining the faculty at Osnabrück, Schäfer worked at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne for 13 years. Together with Wolfgang Streeck he edited Politics in the Age of Austerity (Polity Press, 2013) and has published articles in International Organization and numerous other journals. His current projects investigate whether rising income inequality depresses voter turnout, the sociodemographic patterns of populist support, and how unequal participation translates into unequal responsiveness.