Who supports the “freedom” protesters and why

In the turbulent 1960s, American journalist Hunter S. Thompson spent nearly a year following the Hells Angels outlaw motorcycle gang. His most striking conclusion was not their violent hedonism but their “total retaliatory ethic” against a technologically advanced and economically changing America in which they felt left behind.

As he wrote in an article for The Nation, this kind of politics is “almost unmanageable” using reason or empathy or awareness or one of the left’s other favorite tools.

And in 2016, political scientist Susan McWilliams Barndt, also writing in The Nation, borrowed Thompson’s language to describe her fellow citizens who elected Donald Trump, introducing a deeply polarized new right-wing politics into civic life in her country.

Which brings us to the occupation of Ottawa and the blocking of border crossings and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s invocation of the Federal Emergencies Act – in Canada, for heaven’s sake.

“Thompson was the only American writer to warn liberal left coastal elites of their disconnect from poor, working-class white voters,” McWilliams Barndt wrote.

“Thompson’s Angels were mostly working-class white men who felt, not wrongly, that they had been relegated to the sewers of American society. The manual labor skills they had learned and cultivated were on the decline.

“Although most had completed high school, they lacked the most advanced levels of training that could lead to economic or job security,” McWilliams Barndt wrote.

“Their lack of education,” Thompson wrote of the Angels, “rendered them utterly useless in a highly technical economy.”

Looking at the American future, they saw no place there – Trump Trump’s “white trash” or “deplorable” Trumps, who felt like strangers in their own country.

This is Canada, after all, and discussions of class differences cross sensitive ground. But EKOS Research’s investigative work suggests that what is happening in Ottawa and other localities is not the behavior of marginalized Canadians, but rather evidence of widespread discontent and general discontent.

Sympathy towards the protests and their goals is felt by a third of Canadians – and by no means a random third, but a third defined by clear demographic and behavioral factors.

The most important driver is generational. Half of Canadians under 50 support the protests and their cause. Other key factors include education, with college graduates being more sympathetic and university graduates more opposed. Social class is also a key factor with the working class drawn to the protesters and the opposing middle and upper classes.

Moreover, economic concerns may be driving these protests as much as the named issues of vaccines and mask mandates. Those most adamantly opposed to masks and mandates have (by far) the bleakest economic outlook, driving generational resentment towards an economy that has seen young Canadians fare much worse than their parents. or grandparents at a similar stage in the life cycle. Wage stagnation exacerbated by inflation and affordability is a key force playing out in housing and many other portfolio issues.

Nationally, stress has been well above normal levels for more than two years. Stress is much higher among the poor and decreases with upward movement in self-defined social class. Canadians under 50 experience much more stress than Canadians over 50. There is also a striking interaction between age and gender, with women under 35 registering 25% higher levels of stress than men of comparable age.

More alarmingly, 65% of Canadians believe — and have believed for more than a decade — that if the current trend of concentration of wealth at the top continues, Canadians could well witness a “violent class conflict.”

For those under 35 in Canada, that number jumps to 78% agree and 81% for those who identify as working class. These groups are also fueled by disinformation, which is clearly a critical factor and closely resembles disinformation patterns in the United States.

What would Hunter S. Thompson have discovered while walking along Wellington Street?

Frank Graves is president of EKOS Research Associates, based in Ottawa. Michael Valpy is a senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

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