By Adam Coombs
Both the Brexit Referendum in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s surprise victory in the 2016 American Presidential election have resulted in a number of think-pieces analyzing the voting patterns and intentions of the white working class in both countries. While large cities like London and New York overwhelmingly supported the European Union (EU) and Hilary Clinton respectively, traditional bastions of the white working class, such as Erie, Pennsylvania and the North-West of England voted for Brexit and Donald Trump. Explaining why a majority of those in these demographic groups voted, often times against their economic interest, for conservative and reactionary ideas while abandoning the “traditional” parties of the working class has been one of the main themes of recent political and historical analysis of these two votes.
One answer that has seemed to gain particular currency is that the progressive parties of the left have moved to the centre and abandoned the working class. In late March, in Le Devoir and here on ActiveHistory.ca, historian Steven High called this process the “gentrification of progressive politics.” While I certainly agree with the general contention High and others advance, I’d like to suggest that in order to truly understand these voting patterns we need to first consider white working class conservatism not as an historical aberration but rather, if we take Canada as a case study, as a phenomenon with a long history. Continue reading