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Since the election of Scott Walker, Wisconsin has been seen as ground zero for debates about the appropriate role of government in the wake of the Great Recession. In a time of rising inequality, Walker not only survived a bitterly contested recall that brought thousands of protesters to Capitol Square, he was subsequently reelected. How could this happen? How is it that the very people who stand to benefit from strong government services not only vote against the candidates who support those services but are vehemently against the very idea of big government?
With The Politics of Resentment, Katherine J. Cramer uncovers an oft-overlooked piece of the puzzle: rural political consciousness and the resentment of the “liberal elite.” Rural voters are distrustful that politicians will respect the distinct values of their communities and allocate a fair share of resources. What can look like disagreements about basic political principles are therefore actually rooted in something even more fundamental: who we are as people and how closely a candidate’s social identity matches our own. Using Scott Walker and Wisconsin’s prominent and protracted debate about the appropriate role of government, Cramer illuminates the contours of rural consciousness, showing how place-based identities profoundly influence how people understand politics, regardless of whether urban politicians and their supporters really do shortchange or look down on those living in the country.
The Politics of Resentment shows that rural resentment—no less than partisanship, race, or class—plays a major role in dividing America against itself.
Katherine J. Cramer is professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where she is also director of the Morgridge Center for Public Service and an affiliate faculty member in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, the LaFollette School of Public Affairs, the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology, the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, and the Center for Community and Nonprofit Studies. She is the author of Talking about Race and Talking about Politics, both also published by the University of Chicago Press.
“If you’re wondering about the widening fissure between red and blue America, why politics these days have become so fraught and so emotional, Kathy Cramer is one of the best people to ask.”
— Jeff Guo
“Helps answer a question that has been plaguing political commentators since last November: Why did Donald Trump win in Wisconsin? Everyone has a theory—Hillary Clinton’s campaign strategies, Trump’s appeal to protectionism, GOP voter suppression—and most of them have some truth. But one must also understand Wisconsin, a so-called purple state with a stark urban/rural divide, if one is to understand the national rage that swept Trump into the White House. . . . [Politics of Resentment] illuminate[s] the state’s Republican shift and chart[s] a way forward for reversing it.”
“Cramer, a political science professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, got in her car and drove around rural Wisconsin to learn how voters there actually discuss politics when they talk to each other over coffee and in discussion groups.… These conversations—many of which she quotes verbatim—infuse The Politics of Resentment with a complex humanity that is rare in books about public opinion. The payoff is a narrative with both nuance and depth.”
— Lee Drutman
"The Politics of Resentment is an important contribution to the literature on contemporary American politics. Both methodologically and substantively, it breaks new ground."
— Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare
"One wishes more scholars followed Cramer’s lead. . . . this is a well-written and theoretically rich book. Given recent events, it provides a much-needed corrective to the more journalistic accounts of white working-class voters, ones bereft of the rigor Cramer deploys. The Politics of Resentment, to my mind, is required reading to understand rural support for Scott Walker in Wisconsin; and also what might motivate Trump supporters more generally. Cramer’s book deserves all of the attention it’s received thus far."
— Public Opinion Quarterly
“Cramer spent years carefully listening to ‘ordinary’ people talking about politics and power, then used their words to produce an indelible portrait of the mind and heart of contemporary populism. The Politics of Resentment is the smartest, richest, and most humane work of political science I have read in a very long time.”
— Larry M. Bartels, Vanderbilt University
“Cramer develops a new theory and uses it to show how identity-based rural resentments animate much public opinion in Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker’s success in cutting government and weakening unions makes Cramer’s study of Badger state politics especially important. This is pathbreaking work.”
— John Zaller, University of California, Los Angeles