OSU Professor Stout on Identity Politics

  Many believe that Hillary Clinton lost the election in 2016 because of a focus on something known as identity politics. In his new book, “The Case for Identity Politics: Polarization, Demographic Change, and Racial Appeals,” Oregon State University Associate Professor Christopher Stout looks more closely at this topic.  

Identity politics – defined by the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy as “a wide range of political activity and theorizing founded in the shared experiences of injustice of members of certain social groups” – focuses on issues which are generally considered to be only important to one subset of the voting public. The Stanford Encyclopedia goes on to say that this concept became influential in the late twentieth century as a response to the “negative scripts offered by a dominant culture about one’s own inferiority.” Issues that are currently labeled as identity driven include Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+ rights, and women’s rights; However, as Stout reveals, they also include the Pro-Life movement, farmer’s rights, and the NRA.  

“Identity politics is maybe more of a buzzword for people who are outside of the ‘norm,’ but this occurs on all sides,” Stout said to a reporter for OSU Newsroom. “Trump’s appeals to white voters without a college education are identity-based appeals. His appeals to rural voters are identity-based appeals. His appeals to people who produce coal in West Virginia are identity-based appeals.”  

While historically directing a campaign toward one specific group of people – often delineated by that group’s race – has driven voters to the other candidate, Stout’s book argues that identity-based appeals can now enhance a candidate’s chances.  

“I don’t think race can be ignored in the same way it has been in the past, because of all the things going on with social movements,” Stout said to Newsroom. “I also don’t think there’s the disincentive to pay attention to race that there was in the past.”  

Stout went on to say that he believes Clinton did not lose the race in 2016 due to identifying with any specific group, but because she didn’t address the progressives in the Democratic Party.   

“Voters who don’t like Democratic politicians aren’t going to vote for them, regardless of the rhetoric, whereas in the past they used to be able to bring these voters over, Stout said.  

Stout’s book was released to be read as the United States heads toward the 2020 election season, and was written to be accessible to anyone, regardless of political expertise.  

By Sally K Lehman