Populism and Identity Politics in the U.S. Heartland

  • Ann M. Oberhauser
  • Daniel Krier


The rise of populism on the political right in the U.S. and Europe in recent decades reflects a significant shift in political culture. This populism has been associated with the rejection of mainstream politics and increased hostility toward immigrants, racialized minorities, and other marginalized groups who are seen as threats to economic security and hegemonic social identities. In the U.S. Heartland, several key states flipped from Democrat to Republican in 2016, sealing Trump's win and leading to widespread debates about populist political attitudes in this region. This analysis draws from focus group discussions with community leaders in rural and micropolitan Iowa to understand how local discourses about economic and social change intersects with rising populist politics. Three characteristics of community life emerged as areas of concern among these groups; economic destabilization associated with neoliberalism, changes in social composition, and a profound sense of rurality. Our findings reveal how populism and identity movements on the political right are integrated with Heartland political culture, contributing to the recent electoral success of right-wing populist candidates. The discussion concludes with recommendations to promote a progressive and inclusive agenda for the Heartland and the U.S. as a whole.


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