The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

This may be the most important chart for understanding politics today

(Reuters/Jonathan Drake)

There is nothing Donald Trump hates more than losers, but, statistically-speaking, that is what his supporters are.

Now, I don't mean to sound so harsh. I don't think Trump's supporters are "losers" in the same sense he uses the word—seemingly anyone who didn't have an eight-figure inheritance to, a couple of corporate bankruptcies aside, turn into a 10-figure fortune—but rather that there have been winners and losers from globalization. And his supporters are part of that latter group.

Indeed, Trump's biggest fans tend to be blue-collar, have a high school education or less, and come from the modern-day Rust Belt stretching from upstate New York down into Appalachia and then parts of the South. That, at least, is what the New York Times' Nate Cohn found when he crunched the numbers Civis Analytics put together from its 11,000 interviews of Republican-leaning voters. And it is pretty much what everyone else has found too. Trump, in other words, has become the unlikely tribune of the white-working class.

What do they want? Well, they're mad as hell, and they're not going to take globalization anymore. These are people, after all, who used to feel middle-class, but don't anymore—or at least not as securely—now that so many jobs have been outsourced. Consider this: economists David Autor, David Dorn, and Gordon Hanson have found that trade with China alone explains 21 percent of the decline in manufacturing employment between 1990 and 2007—that's about 1.5 million jobs—and, in the hardest-hit areas, even pushed non-manufacturing wages down too. That, in turn, has made people depend on the safety net more, and, in all likelihood, become even less likely to marry now that there aren't as many men with well-paying jobs. And these people feel like immigration is making this even worse, either by taking the few jobs that remain or overburdening local governments, despite the fact that immigrants actually tend to increase native workers' wages.

In this, the United States is not exceptional. It is the same across the rich world. The working-class in all these countries have stagnated as they've faced increasing competition from the billions of workers who have entered the global economy following the fall of the Berlin Wall. You can see that in the chart below from economist Branko Milanovic, in particular the red circle I added. It looks at how much inflation-adjusted incomes increased—or not—for the whole world between 1988 and 2008.

Here's how to read this. Imagine everyone, as in everyone around the world, lined up based on how much they make. (This would be adjusted for how much that buys in their home country, but don't worry too much about that). Well, that would let us set up a global income distribution. The richest people in the richest countries—and, for that matter, everywhere else too—would make up the global top 1 percent. Working-class people in rich countries would be around the 80th percentile for the world. Middle-class people in middle-class countries would be, you guessed it, around the 50th percentile. And so on, and so on. Now, when you add it all up, it turns out that nobody has done worse the past 30 years than the working-class in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and France. Their inflation-adjusted incomes actually fell over this period. It was the richest people in the richest countries and, even more so, middle-class people in emerging-market countries who did the best. China, though, really belongs in a category all its own here. It's that bump all by itself in the middle.

This chart is really a Rosetta stone for politics today—and not just in the U.S. Almost every rich country has their own anti-trade, anti-immigrant party. France has the National Front. Britain has UKIP. And the rest of Europe has an assortment of populist parties straddling the far-right and far-left. In all these countries, the simple story is that being an elite means buying into globalization whether you're an elite of the center-right or center-left. So the people who feel like they've been left behind don't feel like there's anyone to represent their interests. Which brings us to the elephant that might be too big to even fit in the room: race. Part of the reason respectable parties haven't made more of a play for these voters is these voters often seen to speak or respond to a language of racial or ethnic backlash—whether that's saying Mexicans are rapists or Muslims can't be trusted—that respectable parties stay away from, at least directly.

And that's the problem: Liberal parties can't connect with these voters because they speak to them economically but not culturally, while conservative parties can't connect with them because they speak to them culturally but not economically. There may  not be enough economic losers to make Donald Trump an electoral winner, at least not in a general election, but there are enough to make him a pretty yuuuge force for as long as he wants to be.

Anti-globalizers of the world, unite, and then, well, never unite again.