Monday, January 07, 2019

Record numbers want to leave

Gallup has released a new poll that found that a surprisingly large number of Americans would leave the USA if they could, and it’s mainly because of the current occupant of the White House. The number saying they’d leave is small, as always, but it’s significantly larger than normal. The more worrying thing is who says they want to leave, because that shows real problems for the legitimacy of the American system of government—but it also shows a path to change.

First things first: The number who say they’d leave—16%—is about average in the world, and undeniably a relatively small minority. However, this is after the current regime has been in power only two years. After two terms, Bush the Second’s rate was 11%, and President Obama’s was 10%. So, while small, the number of people who say they’d leave is 60% larger than under President Obama.

The truly worrying thing is the demographic breakdown—but it’s also not surprising.

Overall, 20% of women would like to leave as against 13% of men. But a whopping 40% of women under 30 want to leave, double the 20% of men in the same age group. Overall, 30% of people aged 15-29 want to leave. Gallup says their results found the differences narrow as people get older and disappear over age 50. Which also should surprise no one.

A whopping 30% of the poorest 20% of Americans want to leave, which is more than double what it was under the average of President Obama’s eight years (13%). Interestingly, the number of rich people wanting to leave is also up—from 8% under President Obama to 12% under the current occupant of the White House, a 50% increase.

There are plenty of reasons, based on these numbers, to blame the current occupant for the rising numbers of people wanting to leave. But it turns out that there’s statistical reasons, too, as Gallup pointed out:
Regression analysis shows that regardless of differences by gender, age or income – if Americans disapprove of the job Trump is doing as president, they are more likely to want to leave the U.S. Overall, 22% of Americans who disapproved of Trump's job performance during his first two years said they would like to move, compared with 7% who approved.
The fact that women, young women in particular, are more likely to want to leave is no surprise. Women have seen a serial adulterer and misogynist become US president, they saw a man credibly accused of attempted rape be installed on the US Supreme Court by the old white male Republicans in the US Senate, and they watched those same old white men disrespect, belittle, and attack the accuser, among other women who came forward to accuse Republicans of inappropriate behaviour. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Younger people have seen the movement for gun control run into the power and money of the gun lobby, and the momentum stalled. They’ve watched the current occupant of the White House and the old white men in the Republican caucus in Congress deny the reality of climate change and refuse to act in any way whatsoever—except to make things worse. Indeed, they’ve watched the current regime relax pollution rules to advantage industry and the rich. All of that tells them that Republicans, who have been in complete power for the past two years, don’t care about their future. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Poorer people have seen the Republican power elites in Washington trying repeatedly to take away their health care, cutting the taxes of the rich and super rich while making them pay disproportionately more. Why wouldn’t they want to leave?

Add it all up, and it makes perfect sense that the people that the Republican Party and the current regime controlling the White House care the least about have the most desire to leave. It may seem a little surprising that the traditional voter base of the Republican Party—richer people, and people over 50, all have more people wanting to leave than under either of the two previous presidents. However, traditional Republicans are not the main base of the current occupant—actually, some have turned away from the Republican Party because of the current occupant. So, it’s not actually surprising that some of them would want to leave, too (though a particularly tiny minority of those various demographic groups that traditionally support the Republican Party).

Beyond all that, it’s important to note that wanting to leave is absolutely not the same thing as planning to leave. Among those who say they want to leave, the vast majority will never leave for many reasons.

Second, the results show that the main place people want to go to is Canada, with 26% naming that country. This also isn’t unusual: After every election the supporters of the losing side say they want to go to Canada. But even this is tempered by the fact that the desire to go to Canada has increased since the current occupant eked out an Electoral College victory, and the number wanting to go to Canada doesn’t normally increase, it goes down.

There are some lessons that can be learned, both positive and negative. First, the negative: If the current occupant is re-elected in 2020, and Republicans do well in Congressional elections, then those who want to leave will feel that US democracy is even less legitimate than they do now. When large numbers of people feel their government is illegitimate, it increases social unrest and the greater likelihood of violence, and a crackdown on civil liberties as a result. In other words, things could get much worse.

On the other hand, the fact that young people and women (young women in particular) feel so detached from the government may inspire them to become involved in elections, to vote, maybe to run for office themselves, and if all that happens, it could change absolutely everything. If they do nothing, however, the first scenario becomes much more probable.

While a surprisingly large number of Americans would leave the USA if they could, and that shows real problems for the legitimacy of the American government, it also shows a path to change. We’ll know which way it’s headed within mere months. Buckle up—whether you stay or go, it’ll be a rough ride.

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