Economic Conditions and the Rise of Anti-Democratic Extremism

This paper provides evidence that adverse economic conditions contributed to the rise of anti-democratic extremism in the United States. A state-level analysis shows that increases in the unemployment rate during the Great Recession led to a large increase in the number of anti- democratic extremist groups. Further analysis shows that anti-democratic extremism is most strongly affected by the male unemployment rate and the white unemployment rate, consistent with the observation that most members of these extremist groups are white men. The effect of unemployment is concentrated in states with high pre-existing racial resentment, proxied by the number of racist web searches at baseline. If unemployment had remained at its pre-recession level, the increase in anti-democratic groups between 2007 and 2010 could have been reduced by more than 60%.

JEL Classification: D72, D74, H56

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