For scholars and journalists who may still be confused by President-elect Donald Trump’s win, a recent book sheds light on why Trump’s message was appealing, especially to rural Wisconsin voters.
Published in March of this year, “The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker,” by University of Wisconsin political science professor Katherine Cramer, demonstrates that rural voters felt overlooked by urban cities.
Cramer, also the director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service at UW, said her book was not originally supposed to describe Trump’s appeal to rural America, but rather was supposed to help readers better understand rural America in general.
For the project, Cramer visited restaurants and convenience stores across Wisconsin to listen to discussions and reactions from rural residents about state events. What she found was “rural resentment” toward cities. Cramer said she was not aware of this resentment prior to her research.
“The resentment is this sense of feeling like they are not getting their fair share of political attention, public resources and respect,” Cramer said.
The “politics of resentment” are the ways in which politics figures “tap into” voters’ anger at being ignored, like how Trump tapped into the social divides in America, Cramer said. These animosities helped Cramer understand how groups of people and official entities interact and engage with each other.
The rural parts of Wisconsin wanted a change that prioritized their needs at the top of the political system, and they felt Trump would lead them to that, Cramer said.
“In many different places in Wisconsin among many different types of people, there is distrust of the political system for feelings of being ignored and disrespected,” Cramer said.
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Though almost everybody Cramer talked to said the political system wasn’t working for them, their concerns varied.
For example, Native Americans protest that the state does not have a good enough Native American history curriculum. If there was a more detailed curriculum, more people would know when to respect their culture and traditions, Cramer said.
Moreover, Cramer said Trump’s win can also be attributed to the distrust among rural Americans for Hillary Clinton. The more conservative-leaning groups distrusted Clinton most.
Cramer said she wanted to do a study where she could travel around the state and engage in personal dialogue rather than just sit at home and “guess” what the big issues and major concerns are. She said it’s important to “get off campus” and ask people what they actually think.
Cramer is known for her approach to studying public opinion on politics and how people view their place in politics by interacting directly with communities and engaging in direct conversations.
In her second book, “Talking about Race: Community Dialogues and the Politics of Difference,” Cramer used a similar strategy to observe conversations at local hangouts and illuminate how people talk about race.
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Cramer grew up in Grafton, just north of Milwaukee and graduated from UW in 1994. Cramer returned to UW after completing her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 2000 to focus on politics in her home-state.
“[Wisconsin] politics were always very fascinating to me because people were generally politically involved, but more than average across the country,” Cramer said. “Also, we have a lot of innovation here and interesting political characters.”
Since 2000, Cramer has written four books and has received the 2006 UW-Madison Chancellor’s Distinguished Teaching Award.
Cramer said this presidential election illuminates the irony of politics. Politicians often focus on big cities and urban areas, but the politics of resentment has provided this “fertile ground” for Trump to lay his message and allow it to grow and travel.
“People in small towns are pretty much off the radar for most of the national and political reporting, and now suddenly we are a big focus of attention,” Cramer said.