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Populism in Europe - A Government & Opposition Collection
Government & Opposition editors Laura Cram and Erik Jones introduce and updated collection of articles across the subject of ‘populism’ which can be found below.
In our last update to the populism collection, we placed our emphasis on grounding the debate on populism in the wider study of political science. You can read the introduction to that updated collection here. Since then, Government & Opposition has published three articles on FirstView that we believe scholars working in the area might find of interest. As with our last update, these articles are not focused primarily on populism in Europe, but they do contribute to the wider debate.
- David Andersen and Suthan Krisnarajan look at the relationship between economic crisis and democratic breakdown. They find that a competent bureaucracy can play an important stabilizing role for democratic systems by helping to shield citizens from the inequities that economic downturns often foster. Good government is important for democratic stability.
- Christopher Prosser and Jonathan Mellon survey recent changes in public opinion polling performance. They show there is little evidence that ‘shy voters’ who hide their true intentions are what distorts polling analysis and much more reason to believe that poor polling performance is a function of bad modelling. Voters are revealing their preferences.
- Finally, and most recently, Steffen Blings examines the relationship between social movements and niche political parties, focusing primarily on the cases in Sweden and Germany. What he shows is the lasting influence that social movements have on the political agendas of the parties they create. Social movements matter for the study of niche political parties.
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.
In this article, we argue that individuals’ expectations about their future economic prospects are a crucial missing determinant of their degree of satisfaction with democracy. To investigate this link, we collected an original, nationally representative data set on young skilled unemployed Italians using the innovative quantitative expectations data methodology (Manski 2004). Controlling for current local labour market conditions with administrative province-level data and for a rich array of individual-level determinants, we show that those expecting greater job insecurity and instability have lower current satisfaction levels with democracy. By better conceptualizing and operationalizing individuals’ expectations, we advance the theoretical framework on satisfaction with democracy and show that expectations are an important and often overlooked determinant of the current level of satisfaction with democratic institutions.
The personalization of politics, the decline of political parties and the weakening of political institutions in large democracies are considered to produce instability and to undermine democratic governance. Yet despite having extremely informal and personalized systems with non-ideological parties, small states around the world maintain significantly higher levels of democracy and regime stability than large ones. This article addresses this paradox by offering a systematic literature review of 167 case study publications on personalization and informal politics in 46 small states. The analysis reveals that personalized relations between political elites translate into either fragmentation or power concentration, while pervasive patron–client linkages structure the interaction between citizens and politicians. Despite the obvious downsides of these dynamics for democratic governance, the small state system is functional in the sense that it fulfils the needs of both citizens and politicians, which explains why small states have succeeded in maintaining their political stability.
Niche parties often originate in social movements, yet the latter’s role in shaping these parties has received scant attention. I argue that movement roots can help niche parties achieve both vote- and policy-seeking goals by keeping core issues salient, bolstering issue ownership and securing allies in civil society. Employing interviews with movement, as well as Green and Pirate party leaders in Sweden and Germany, I identify three mechanisms (electoral pressure, grassroots linkage, elite orientation) that lead to programmatic alignment. This article extends an emerging research agenda that highlights how social movements shape party politics and offers evidence that niche party–movement interactions open new avenues for political representation counterbalancing mainstream parties’ increasing detachment from civil society.
Scholars of electoral behaviour regularly link political dissatisfaction to two types of behaviour: voting for populist parties and unstable voting behaviour. It is therefore not surprising that the electorates of populist parties are generally assumed to be rather volatile. In this article, we argue that this is not necessarily the case – in particular in a context of increasingly strong and viable populist parties. We make use of data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems project to show that voters for populist parties are neither more nor less volatile than voters for mainstream parties. Political dissatisfaction among voters for populist parties even increases the likelihood of stable voting for populist parties. The supply of populist parties further conditions the stability of the populist vote, as voters in systems with established populist parties are more likely to vote stably for populist parties. Finally, we find that in a context of strong and stable populist parties, the effect of political satisfaction on vote switching is somewhat reduced.
Government responsiveness to citizens’ preferences is considered a sign of a well-functioning representative democracy. While the empirical literature has grown significantly, scholars have given less scrutiny to the conceptualization of government responsiveness and its relationship to policy/ideological congruence. We show that government responsiveness represents dynamic changes from governments in order to improve policy/ideological congruence. In addition, we consider how electoral systems influence governments’ incentives to be responsive as well as their capacity to be responsive. Building on a veto player approach, we argue that government responsiveness decreases as the number of parties in cabinet increases. We examine government responsiveness to citizens’ ideological preferences in 16 advanced democracies in 1980–2016 with respect to social spending. In line with our veto player framework, we show, first, that governments are generally more responsive under majoritarian than PR electoral systems and, second, that government responsiveness decreases under PR electoral systems as the number of parties increases in cabinet.
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.
Most studies see demand for populist forces driven by broad sociological factors that make certain issues salient among specific constituencies. However, this argument is not normally tested at the individual level. We propose a theory of populist voting which argues that populist attitudes are themselves important predictors of voting, interacting with ideological positions. We test this theory through a comparison of recent voting in Chile and Greece, two countries where the contexts for activating populist attitudes are very different. We find that despite similar levels of populist attitudes across both countries, these attitudes explain much more of the vote in Greece than they do in Chile, and that in both countries they interact with ideological positions in predictable ways.
Little comparative evidence exists about what causes candidates to use negative campaigning in elections. We introduce an original comparative data set that contains experts’ information about campaigning strategies of 172 candidates competing in 35 national elections worldwide between June 2016 and May 2017. Analyses reveal several trends: incumbents run positive campaigns but are especially likely to attract attacks, candidates far from the ideological centre are more likely to ‘go negative’, candidates tend to attack frontrunners and rivals that are far from them ideologically, but they also engage in a logic of attack reciprocity with selected candidates. The comparative nature of the data also allows us to test whether variations in the context affect the use of campaign negativity; we find that the context matters mostly indirectly, by altering the effects of individual characteristics.
Why do economic crises sometimes lead to democratic breakdown and sometimes not? To answer this question, we bring in a new conditioning factor. We propose that bureaucracies of higher quality – implying more competent, efficient and autonomous employees – to a greater extent shield the masses from impoverishment and unjust distribution of resources. This dampens anti-regime mass mobilization, which decreases elite incentives and opportunities for toppling the democratic regime. Statistical analyses of democracies globally from 1903 to 2010 corroborate that the impact of economic crises on the risk of democratic breakdown is suppressed when democracies have a bureaucracy of higher quality. The results are robust to alternative model specifications, including a battery of ‘good governance’ indicators. The effect of bureaucratic quality is not driven by bureaucracies’ ability to hinder crisis onset or shorten crisis duration but rather their ability to decrease domestic upheavals during crises.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recently, scholars have shown a growing interest in radical left parties (RLPs). In terms of electoral success, the rise of the KPÖ Graz, the Communist Party in Austria’s second biggest city, represents perhaps the most counterintuitive case in Western Europe. Adding to previous studies, the rise of the KPÖ Graz contradicts many of the claims made and patterns found about the conditions for the electoral success of RLPs. While the national KPÖ was voted out of parliament in 1959, the Graz branch has been a member of local government since 1998. Since then, the party has managed to gain 20 per cent of the vote in three out of four elections. In 2017, the KPÖ defended its place as the second largest party in local legislature and stayed ahead of the radical right FPÖ, on the rise at the national level. In stark contrast to the Communists’ current strength, however, they did not gain even 2 per cent of the vote in 1983. This analysis shows how the party has managed to ‘own’ the issue of housing and to exploit local political opportunities in order to be electorally successful. The findings point to the importance of agency and the subnational level for RLPs, and highlight more general questions in the study of this party family.
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 reviews books which test the personalization of politics, looking at different dimensions of the growing importance of leaders over time, namely for political parties, in electoral behaviour and in the media. Only recently have wide-ranging comparative longitudinal studies on leaders been carried out. The personalization thesis is not equally demonstrated across all dimensions. Indeed, we find something of a puzzle: There is no strong trend towards personalization of party organizations, whereas in electoral behaviour the evidence points to the increasing use by voters of leaders as heuristics. This attests to the decline of the importance of parties. The personalization of media may be the mechanism which explains the change in voting behaviour, and the third and final section of the review looks into that arena. We conclude with some suggestions on further research on the personalization of politics.
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.