The New Class and Right-Wing Populism: The Case of Wisconsin by Chad Alan Goldberg & Masoud Movahed (July 2023)

The Sociological Quarterly


While previous scholarship highlights the importance of cross-class alliances between intellectuals and workers in past social-democratic and labor movements, the growth of right-wing populism may signal the breakdown of this political alignment today. We investigate the extent to which intellectuals and workers remain politically aligned through a case study of political developments in the state of Wisconsin, which pioneered social-democratic reforms in the US in the early twentieth century and then turned toward right-wing populism in the twenty-first century. We draw on Alvin Gouldner and Pierre Bourdieu to theorize intellectual-worker alliances. We then present historical evidence that an intellectual-worker alliance played an important role in the earlier period. Logistic regression analysis with survey data shows continued political antagonism between the state’s wealthiest and most highly educated citizens in the later period, as well as an enduring political alignment of highly educated and working-class Wisconsinites. Our results demonstrate that right-wing populism prevailed in Wisconsin despite an intellectual-worker alliance, not because the alliance broke down. We conclude with a discussion of what these findings imply about contemporary right-wing populism beyond Wisconsin.