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Populism in Europe - A Government & Opposition Collection
Government & Opposition co-Editor Erik Jones introduces a collection of free articles across the subject of Populism which can be found below.
The political landscape of Europe is changing rapidly and in ways that are hard to interpret. The recent Italian referendum is a good illustration. Matteo Renzi inherited an agenda to reform the Italian constitution when he became prime minister. He negotiated an agreement with the centre-right on the precise details of the package. He shepherded the agreement through two majority votes in each of Italy’s two chambers of parliament. He then brought the agreement to a popular vote as per constitutional requirement and with an electorate broadly disenchanted with politics and therefore favourable to reform. Nevertheless, virtually every party outside the government opposed the reform package and Renzi lost the referendum vote by a spread of twenty percentage points. Now Renzi is out of office. Italy is without a viable electoral system because of changes made in anticipation of the (failed) constitutional reforms. And it is unclear whether the new government headed by Paolo Gentiloni has sufficient support in the Senate to pass a new electoral law. Most Italians did not want Renzi’s constitutional reforms and yet they are not happy with the status quo either. Disillusionment with politics has grown as a result.
Italy is hardly alone in facing such an impasse. If anything, the situation in Greece is more complicated. The Greeks threw out their traditional parties in favour of a Syriza-led government in January 2015 only to watch that government descend from immobility into crisis. Then they voted overwhelmingly to reject an austerity package demanded by international creditors only to face something more demanding and restrictive. Now they are under pressure to make unpopular reforms in order to face an uncertain future. Greek politicians cannot promise that reforms will make things better via debt relief or less rigid austerity; they can only threaten that a failure to reform will make things worse. The situation in Spain and Portugal is better and yet no less confusing. Spain finally managed to form a minority centre-right government only after repeated elections and a prolonged period of coalition building. Portugal is governed by an unprecedented combination of the centre-left and far-left. The political situation in these countries appears stable at the moment but their direction of movement is not obvious.
The countries of northern Europe are no more transparent. The British are still grappling with the results of their 23 June referendum on European Union membership. The Dutch are heading toward elections where the right-wing Party of Freedom headed by Geert Wilders could emerge as the largest in the Dutch parliament (and where the Party of Labour now in government could lose almost two-thirds of its parliamentary seats). The French will hold presidential elections in which either the National Front candidate Marine Le Pen or the centre-left outsider Emmanuel Macron will face-off against the centre-right’s Francois Fillon (and a Le Pen/Macron second-round cannot be ruled out as a possibility). The Germans will also hold national elections; the questions are how many seats the Alternative for Germany will pull from the centre-right and whether Die Linke (or The Left) will win enough seats to entice the Social Democrats into a Red-Red-Green coalition. In all these cases, we are in terra icognita and not on terra firma.
Then there are the countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Victor Orban’s government in Hungary has been through a prolonged cycle of constitutional re-engineering, often to the dismay of Oban’s opposition at home and democrats in other parts of Europe. Poland’s government seems headed down a similar path, but without the support of the European People’s Party and so in the face of mounting criticism from the European Parliament. Moreover, the governments of both countries have expressed a desire to loosen the bonds of European integration and to reassert national sovereignty. As with the rest of Europe, where these countries are headed is unclear. The only known factor is that both countries are in the hands of ‘populist’ governments. Indeed, the influence of populism seems to be the thread running through all these cases. Hence it is tempting to conclude that rather than focusing on where Europe is headed, we should focus on the populism behind recent events.
To help navigate this complicated situation, Government & Opposition is making a series of article available for free access. These articles explore different aspects of populism in Europe. They are only a selection of what the journal can offer the debate.
This paper applies categories developed in the classic literature on political opposition to the developing European Union. It is clear that the EU has never developed the third great milestone identified by Dahl in his analysis of the path to democratic institutions. That is, we still lack the capacity to organize opposition within the European polity. This failure to allow for opposition within the polity is likely to lead either (a) to the elimination of opposition altogether, or (b) to the mobilization of an opposition of principle against the EU polity. This problem is also beginning to reach down into the domestic sphere, in that the growing weight of the EU, through its indirect impact on national politics, helps to encourage domestic democratic deficits, hence limiting the scope for classical opposition at the national level. Here too, then, we might expect to see either the elimination of opposition or the mobilization of a new – perhaps populist – opposition of principle.
The literature on losers’ consent identifies clear distinctions in perceptions of democracy between electoral losers and winners. However, little of the literature addresses the complexities of mixed member electoral systems or compares this winner–loser divergence to that of non-voters. An analysis of post-election surveys in Germany in 2009 and 2013 allows for a disaggregation of types of losers and non-voters. Results find that voting for a district candidate from a losing party has a greater effect on perceptions than voting for a losing party in the proportional representation tier, while losing in both appeared to slow the decline in positive evaluations of the system. Meanwhile clear distinctions between perceptions of different types of non-voters emerge.
This article makes the case for a novel democratic subtype, populist democracy, indicating a situation in which both the party in office and at least the major opposition force(s) in a pluralist system are populist. Based on a minimal definition of populism as ‘democratic illiberalism’, and through the comparative analysis of post-authoritarian Greece and post-communist Hungary, the article reveals the particular stages, as well as the causal mechanisms, that may prompt the emergence of populist democracy in contemporary politics. It also points to the tendency of such systems to produce polarized two-party systems, and it calls for further research on the topic.
Why has the extreme right Greek Golden Dawn, a party with clear links to fascism, experienced a rise defying all theories that claim that such a party is unlikely to win in post-Second World War Europe? And, if we accept that economic crisis is an explanation for this, why has such a phenomenon not occurred in other countries that have similar conducive conditions, such as Portugal and Spain? This article addresses this puzzle by: (1) carrying out a controlled comparison of Greece, Portugal and Spain; and (2) showing that the rise of the extreme right is not a question of intensity of economic crisis. Rather it is the nature of the crisis – that is, economic versus overall crisis of democratic representation – that facilitates the rise of the extreme right. We argue that extreme right parties are more likely to experience an increase in their support when economic crisis culminates into an overall crisis of democratic representation. Economic crisis is likely to become a political crisis when severe issues of governability impact upon the ability of the state to fulfil its social contract obligations. This breach of the social contract is accompanied by declining levels of trust in state institutions, resulting in party system collapse.
Like many party systems across Western Europe, the Dutch party system has been in flux since 2002 as a result of a series of related developments, including the decline of mainstream parties which coincided with the emergence of radical right-wing populist parties and the concurrent dimensional transformation of the political space. This article analyses how these challenges to mainstream parties fundamentally affected the structure of party competition. On the basis of content analysis of party programmes, we examine the changing configuration of the Dutch party space since 2002 and investigate the impact of these changes on coalition-formation patterns. We conclude that the Dutch party system has become increasingly unstable. It has gradually lost its core through electoral fragmentation and mainstream parties’ positional shifts. The disappearance of a core party that dominates the coalition-formation process initially transformed the direction of party competition from centripetal to centrifugal. However, since 2012 a theoretically novel configuration has emerged in which no party or coherent group of parties dominates competition.
Low levels of political trust are associated with a preference for protest parties. Some authors have argued that in this manner protest parties indirectly contribute to the stability of electoral democracy, functioning as a ‘safety valve’ for political discontent. In this article, we investigate the relationship between protest voting and political trust in a dynamic perspective, relying on a five-year Belgian panel study. We confirm that citizens with low levels of political trust are more likely to vote for protest parties. Additionally, we point out that decreasing levels of trust significantly increase the probability of voting for a protest party, even controlling for absolute levels of trust. Most importantly, having voted for a protest party in 2009 is linked to a subsequent further drop in political trust during the 2009–14 observation period. The panel analysis suggests that distrust and protest voting reinforce one another, leading to a potential spiral of distrust.
On the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the concept of anti-system party it is time to ask whether it enjoys good health in addition to longevity. Reflecting on what constitutes an anti-system party appears to be of unprecedented relevance, particularly in the light of the electoral success of populist parties such as the French Front National, the Five Star Movement in Italy and Syriza in Greece. This article highlights two crucial questions that remain unsolved if we follow existing conceptualizations: What are the boundaries of the concept? When does a party cease to be anti-system and how can it be reclassified thereafter? In order to overcome such limitations, this article develops a revisited concept of anti-system party and provides a set of guidelines for its empirical application. Furthermore, a novel typology capable of investigating the evolution of anti-system parties and classifying political parties in general is presented.
A SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT IN RECENT SOUTH AMERICAN POLITICS has been the re-emergence of populism. More interesting still has been the unexpected combination – in some countries – of traditional populist appeals (successfully made), the determined application of free market policies, and the successful re-election of the market-reforming populists. This does not mean that populist politicians can succeed to order. Many populist candidates have sought election and only a few have secured it. Of those elected as (essentially) independent candidates, only some have succeeded. Presidents Bucaram in Ecuador and Collor in Brazil were removed from office by Congress and subjected to legal proceedings for corruption. However, where populists have succeeded, they have done so on a far more impressive scale than most people originally predicted.
While previous research has generally shown that economic performance is an important predictor of satisfaction with democracy, differences between political systems on the majoritarian-consensual dimension have not been as marked as expected. What has been neglected in previous studies is how the interaction between economic performance and type of power-sharing arrangement co-produce democratic satisfaction. This study uses multiple rounds of data from the European Social Survey between 2002 and 2013 involving 31 countries. The results show that short-term changes in economic performance and government fractionalization interactively increase or decrease levels of political support. The effect of economic performance on satisfaction with democracy becomes weaker the more fractionalized a government is. Satisfaction with how democracy works in a country remains relatively high in systems with fractionalized coalition governments when the economy is performing poorly. But when the economy performs extraordinarily well, satisfaction with democracy is even higher in countries with a dominant party in charge of government power.
Populism is usually studied by looking at the electoral and rhetorical strategies of parties considered to be populist. In contrast, this article attempts to measure the support for the core propositions of populism among voters and explain the social differences in that support. On the basis of a survey of the Dutch-speaking population of Belgium (N: 2,330) we find that this support for populism turns out not to be directly influenced by a weak or uncertain economic position, by dissatisfaction with personal life or feelings of anomie. Support for populism appears foremost as a consequence of a very negative view of the evolution of society – declinism – and of the feeling of belonging to a group of people that is unfairly treated by society.
Although there is a lively academic debate about contemporary populism in Europe and Latin America, almost no cross-regional research exists on this topic. This article aims to fill this gap by showing that a minimal and ideological definition of populism permits us to analyse current expressions of populism in both regions. Moreover, based on a comparison of four prototypical cases (FN/Le Pen and FPÖ/Haider in Europe and PSUV/Chávez and MAS/Morales in Latin America), we show that it is possible to identify two regional subtypes of populism: exclusionary populism in Europe and inclusionary populism in Latin America.
This article assesses the electoral performance of populist parties in three European countries: the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom. In explaining the electoral performance of the populist parties in the three countries, the article considers the agency of political parties in particular. More specifically, it examines the responsiveness of established parties and the credibility of the populist parties. Whereas the agency of populist parties, or other radical outsiders, has often been overlooked in previous comparative studies, this article argues that the credibility of the populist parties themselves plays a crucial role in understanding their electoral success and failure.
Why do democratic institutions struggle to maintain their vitality and legitimacy in hard times? In this special issue of Government and Opposition, we identify a loss of solidarity as the root cause of Western political dysfunction over the past decade. The argument is developed in four parts. The first part is theoretical insofar as it sketches the causal mechanism that describes what we mean by democratic dysfunction. Here we set out some of the key concepts that are central to our project. The second part is empirical insofar as it offers four negative illustrations of the fundamental problématique, which gives us the opportunity to suggest why this collection of research articles is relevant to the contemporary debate on democracy and its discontents. The third part explores the many possible sources of democratic dysfunction, which we have organized around two thematic clusters. Here we introduce the other articles in our special issue. The fourth and last part suggests implications of living in a democratic world with waning solidarity, allowing us to draw preliminary conclusions and suggest avenues for future research.
GHIŢA IONESCU'S HOMELAND IS ONE OF THE MOST TROUBLED NATIONS in Europe. Its wounded national feeling has produced the strangest ideological combinations, mixing freely a fascist past with nostalgia for Ceausescu, as is the case with the Vatra Romaneasca (Romanian Homeland) movement, or the editors of the influential journal Romania Mare, adept at denouncing the ‘international Judaeo- Zionist-capitalist’ plot. One of the main theoreticians of corporatism, as is well known, was Mihail Manoilescu, while another Romanian intellectual, Ilie Badescu, created the ‘protocronist’ school of sociology, bent on documenting cultural and scientific findings in Romania which had anticipated later Western European developments. This approach was adopted officially during the Ceausescu regime, and now inspires some extreme right-wing groups which espouse a radical nationalist ideology. One of them, the Party of the National Right, admits to not being democratic, but compensates for this by proclaiming its ‘demophilia’, that is, its love for the people, a concept created by Petre Tutea, an admirer of the Iron Guard interwar fascist movement.
A focus on crisis is a mainstay of the literature on contemporary populism. However, the links between populism and crisis remain under-theorized and undeveloped. This article puts forward a novel perspective for understanding this relationship, arguing that crisis does not just trigger populism, but that populism also attempts to act as a trigger for crisis. This is because crises are always mediated and ‘performed’. The article presents a six-step model of how populist actors ‘perform’ crisis, drawing on empirical examples from Europe, Latin America, North America and the Asia-Pacific region. It explains how the performance of crisis allows populist actors to pit ‘the people’ against a dangerous other, radically simplify the terrain of political debate and advocate strong leadership. It ultimately suggests that we should move from thinking of crisis as something purely external to populism, towards thinking about the performance of crisis as an internal core feature of populism.
An egalitarian approach to the fair representation of voters specifies three main institutional requirements: proportional representation, legislative majority rule and a parliamentary system of government. This approach faces two challenges: the under-determination of the resulting democratic process and the idea of a trade-off between equal voter representation and government accountability. Linking conceptual with comparative analysis, the article argues that we can distinguish three ideal-typical varieties of the egalitarian vision of democracy, based on the stages at which majorities are formed. These varieties do not put different relative normative weight onto equality and accountability, but have different conceptions of both values and their reconciliation. The view that accountability is necessarily linked to ‘clarity of responsibility’, widespread in the comparative literature, is questioned – as is the idea of a general trade-off between representation and accountability. Depending on the vision of democracy, the two values need not be in conflict.
This article argues for a radical recasting of the European Union democratic deficit debate. Critics have long argued that the EU suffers from a democratic deficit and that growing EU power undermines national democracy. But recent backsliding on democracy and the rule of law in Hungary and Poland reminds us that grave democratic deficits can also exist at the national level in member states and that the EU may have a role in addressing them. This article will place the EU’s struggles with democratic deficits in its member states in comparative perspective, drawing on the experience of other democracies that have struggled with pockets of subnational authoritarianism. Comparative analysis suggests that considerations driven by partisan politics may allow local pockets of autocracy to persist within otherwise democratic political unions.
During The Years Immediately Following The Fall Of The Ceausescu regime in 1989, Romania fulfilled the requirements of an ‘electoral democracy’. Free and reasonably fair elections regularly produced parliaments (1990, 1992) and governments dominated by the communist successor parties run by Ion Iliescu, a member of the old nomenklatura. Once elected, these institutions operated in principle within the framework of procedural democracy, but in practice often broke the rules and norms accepted in the West as characteristic of liberal democracy. When this occurred public opinion was either too weak, or divided, or simply too indifferent to demand more accountability. Further impoverishment of the poorest citizens due to mismanagement of the economy and rampant corruption contributed to the demise of the post-communist regime in 1996, which in turn led to the hope that with electoral democracy established, the development of democratic institutions and government accountability would follow.
The economic crisis has meant that radical left parties in Europe have been faced with changing socioeconomic environments. In this study we examine how European radical left parties have responded to the crisis in terms of their societal mobilization strategies and seek to explain their responses. Discussions in the relevant literature advocate that party-specific characteristics matter greatly in how parties mobilize in society and establish relations with social groups in times of stability. But do they continue to be as important at times of dramatic change, when new realities emerge in society? We look at the cases of the Greek (Greek Communist Party and Coalition of the Radical Left), Irish (Sinn Féin), Portuguese (Portuguese Communist Party and Bloco) and Spanish (Spanish Communist Party/United Left) radical left parties, which are alike at the country level but exhibit differences at the party level. Utilizing data from an original expert survey, we show that both ideology and organizational legacy throw considerable light on the observed variation among the six radical left parties’ societal responses to the crisis. In this way, they ensure continuity rather than change.