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What ‘Brexit’ and Trump rhetoric have in common

USC experts point to an international wave of nationalist and populist sentiment amid ever-increasing globalization

European Union flag, minus one star
Illustration of the European Union flag (Photo/

In the wake of the “Brexit” vote, comparisons are being drawn between supporters of the “Leave” campaign and Donald Trump’s core supporters. Rhetorical parallels certainly abound, but experts point to a wave of nationalist and populist sentiment internationally amid ever-expanding globalization. We asked USC professors about the implications of that trend and how it might affect immigrants.

An effective strategy

Thomas Hollihan

Thomas Hollihan (Photo/Courtesy of Thomas Hollihan)

“Political candidates and elected officials frequently appeal to nationalist sentiments to mobilize public support and to divert public attention from other domestic problems. Around the world we see signs of a widening income gap between those who have profited from globalization and free trade and those who have been left behind. The economic anxieties have been further intensified by the global population flows that have fundamentally changed neighborhoods and communities causing some people to see their traditions and patterns of daily life as uniquely under threat. These sentiments have been evident in the Trump campaign in the United States and in the Brexit and nativist movements in Western Europe. If unchecked they will threaten the globalization project that has contributed to peace in Europe and to sustained economic growth.”

Expert on political rhetoric and campaign communication with the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism

Capitalizing on fear

Edwin Smith

Edwin Smith (Photo/Courtesy of Edwin Smith)

“The voters of United Kingdom listened to a heated and fear-mongering debate about the merits of leaving the European Union. They responded by voting to exit the EU because of exaggerated fears of torrential immigration and inarticulate desires to reclaim British sovereignty. Rational arguments by proponents of remaining in the EU were overwhelmed by fallacious and demagogic tirades about the need to recover Britain’s greatness.

“Analogies with the current American political campaign are sobering.”

International law expert with the USC Gould School of Law

Combating anti-immigrant sentiment

Morris Levy

Morris Levy (Photo/Courtesy of Morris Levy)

“Americans are likely to be be biased against Latino, undocumented immigrants when other information isn’t available. Elaborating more and controlling for non-racial attributes that Americans are interested in – speaking English, holding a steady job, paying back taxes – erases the bias effect.

“The connection to Judge Gonzalo Curiel is the same kind of thing. Donald Trump used ethnicity as a marker for an undesirable personal attribute. If we want to be a nation of immigrants, it is important to spend a lot more time focusing on the points of concern opponents of immigration have; there needs to be a different rhetorical strategy.”

Expert in immigration policy, voter demographics and voter ID laws with the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

Same song, different tune … sort of

Gerardo Munck

Gerardo Munck (Photo/Courtesy of Gerardo Munck)

“It is hard to make a clear parallel between what is happening in Europe and movements in Latin America but you can interpret what is happening as critiques of globalization. Latin America had left-wing populist movements compared to the right-wing movements you are seeing in the United States and Europe. In Latin America, populist leaders came to power as a backlash against the elites, establishment and globalization. In America and Europe, conservatives are lashing out against immigrants. I’d have a hard time making a connection as populism can come from both the left or the right.”

Expert on Latin America and democracy with the USC Dornsife College

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What ‘Brexit’ and Trump rhetoric have in common

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