Published online by Cambridge University Press: 10 June 2020
Drawing on evidence from the Philippines, this paper investigates the so-called penal populism thesis. Penal populism refers to an understanding of justice in which criminal and anti-social activity should be harshly punished. The paper tests whether support for harsh penal policies, including the use of extrajudicial killings, is associated with underlying populist attitudes and preferences for charismatic leadership. Since coming to power in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has waged a violent and highly popular campaign against drug-related criminality. Based on survey modules fielded in 2016 and 2017, the paper demonstrates a positive relationship between populist attitudes and support for the campaign against illegal drugs in general and the extra-judicial killing of suspected drug users and dealers in particular. It also demonstrates a relationship between belief in the charisma of Duterte and support for the campaign against illegal drugs. The implications of the theory and results for the fields of populism and penal populism research are discussed.