Bruce Stokes, director of global economic attitudes at Pew Research Center, in an interview with The Sunday Guardian talked about populism in the US and UK, its effects on the world and the position of India on the populism map, among other things. Excerpts:

Q: How would you explain the rise of populism in the United States and the United Kingdom? How different are they?

A: Our polling data, and that of others, suggests multiple roots for the recent rise in populism. There has been a decline in public faith in institutions such as the European Union, the US government, the US Congress, corporations, unions and so forth and a related decline in faith in elites. This may, in part, be a consequence of unhappiness in the state of the economy, the belief that the gap between the rich and the poor is rising and a decline in the belief that the future will be better than the past. Coupled with these economic sentiments is a rise of nativism, concern about the other, antipathy toward refugees, Muslims, and some questioning of the value of diversity.

Q: Between Trump and Clinton, from whose victory would the economies of developing countries such as India benefit the most?

A: It is really impossible to say. Our surveys show that about half of the American public says trade deals are good for the economy and are willing to import more from the developing world. At the same time, both candidates have spoken out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the main trade  deal now being considered by the US and the only one involving some developing economies. Neither candidate has focused much on trade with India, so the future of US-India trade is hard to forecast.

Q: What are the side-effects of populism that the world at large faces due to the emergence of populism in the US and the UK? Are there benefits too?

A: Globalisation involves the movement of goods, services and people in unprecedented numbers. Populism—be it anti-trade sentiment among some in America, anti-refugee sentiment in parts of Europe—seems to be telling us in our surveys that they want those trade and people flows to slow down or stop. Our surveys show that Americans and many Europeans believe that trade is more likely to lower wages and destroy jobs than it is to raise wages and create jobs. As long as some people believe that, and given the history of wage stagnation and manufacturing job losses in the US over the last generation they have some reason to be upset, it may prove difficult for politicians to advocate deeper international economic integration. Witness the fact that both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton oppose the TPP. Are there benefits from populism? It could prove a wakeup call for elites, that issues of income inequality, lack of job creation are the issues our surveys show are foremost in people’s minds and need to finally be addressed.

Q: How is populism in India different from others?

A: We know from our surveys that Indians are concerned about inequality and lack of job creation, which parallels concerns in Europe and the United States. Populism in India, with the election of the Modi government, may well have prefigured that in the West.

Q: What are your views about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s economic policy and handling of subsidies? How do you see the “Give it up” on fuel subsidy?

A: The Pew Research Center does not make judgements about individual governments’ policies. Our survey shows that 62% of Indians approve of his handling of unemployment and a similar share approve of his efforts in helping the poor.

Q: Pew Research revealed that Narendra Modi’s party BJP did not fare as well as the leader did and the popularity of Modi has fallen in rural areas as compared to last year. How do you interpret these facts? 

A: Be careful with such an assessment. In our 2016 survey, 81% of Indians have a favourable view of Modi and 80% have a favourable view of the BJP. That is not a statistically significant difference by any stretch of the imagination. It is true that Modi’s favourability is down 6 percentage points from 2015 and the BJP’s is down 7 points. But these are not major declines, when eight-in-ten Indians still see both favourably.


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