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Golfing with Trump: Professor Neil Lee

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A MBS & CGR&IS online seminar presented by the University of Bath, School of Management.

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Golfing with Trump. Social Capital, Decline, Inequality, and the Rise of Populism in the US

In 2000 Robert Putnam forecast that United States (US) democracy was at risk from the twin challenges of declining civic engagement and rising interpersonal inequality. Sixteen years later, his predictions were vindicated by the election of Donald Trump as president of the US. This paper analyses the extent to which the election of Donald Trump was related to levels of social capital and interpersonal inequalities and posits a third alternative: that the rise in vote for Trump in 2016 was the result of long-term economic and population decline in areas with strong social capital. This hypothesis is confirmed by the econometric analysis conducted for counties across the US. Long-term declines in employment and population rather than in earnings, salaries, or wages in places with relatively strong social capital propelled Donald Trump to the presidency. By contrast, low social capital and high interpersonal inequality were not connected to a surge in support for Trump. The analysis also shows that the discontent at the base of the Trump margin is not just a consequence of the 2008 crisis but had been brewing for a long time. Places in the US that remained cohesive but witnessed an enduring decline are no longer bowling alone, they are golfing with Trump.


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About Neil Lee

Neil is Professor of Economic Geography at LSE. He has previously been Head of Socio-Economic Research at The Work Foundation, and a visiting scholar at TCLab, Columbia University and at Science Po Toulouse. He is currently also Chair of the Regional Studies Policy Committee.

Neil has published widely and extensively on economic development, innovation, public policy, and inequality. Recent studies have considered the impact of high-technology sectors on low-wage labour markets, access to finance for SMEs in cities across the world, and new forms of innovation policy. Current projects include an investigation into innovation in Kuwait, a comparative study of innovative clusters in East Asia, and research on the geography of populism. He is also working on inclusive growth and inclusive innovation policy. He has worked closely with public and private sector organisations including NESTA, the World Bank, the OECD, the European Commission, and the UK government.

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