The revolt of the Rust Belt: place and politics in the age of anger

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107 Scopus citations


This paper argues that the election of Donald Trump is the product of a confluence of historical factors rather than the distinctive appeal of the victor himself. By paying particular attention to the geography of unusual voting behaviour the analytical question comes into view: why did so much uncharacteristic voting occur in the Rust Belt states of the upper Midwest? It is impossible to answer this question adequately using conventional categorical attributes. The usual hypotheses of ‘economic anxiety’ and white revanchism are unable to account for sudden shifts in the voting behaviour of both white and black voters in post-industrial territories. Instead, it is necessary to turn to the history of the region and the institutional apparatus that connected voters there to the federal government and the Democratic Party. From this perspective we can see that the active dismantling of the Fordist social order set the region on a divergent path from the rest of the country. But this path had no political outlet due to the reorientation of the Democratic Party around a new class and geographic base. Due to this, the party pursued policies that would magnify the region's difficulties rather than alleviate its circumstances. Moreover, the elaborate institutional ties that connected the region's voters to the Democratic Party and the federal government meant that the political implications of regional decline would be muted. However, as these institutions frayed, Rust Belt voters were made available to candidates that challenged the policy consensus that had done so much damage to the region. The election was decided by a Rust Belt revolt that unified black and white working-class voters against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)S120-S152
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology
StatePublished - Nov 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Fordism
  • Rust Belt
  • Trump
  • community
  • institutionalism
  • place
  • region

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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