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New Perspectives on Populist Success

December 13, 2021 @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Speaker: Noam Gidron (Hebrew University) and Elena Baro (Norwegian University of Science and Technology)

Besides defining populism, the field has mostly tried to understand why citizens vote for populist parties. Explanations include parties’ ideological positions, party competition but also individual-level explanations such as attitudes on representation, sociodemographic factors, and issue salience. This session provides new insights and perspectives into populist parties’ success.

Noam Gidron (Hebrew University) Decomposing European Populism

What explains the rising support for populist parties across Europe over the last three decades: changes in the positions of political parties, changes in voters’ opinions, or changes in the weights voters attach to specific issues? In order to adjudicate between these three alternatives (though not mutually exclusive) arguments, we draw on decomposition methods developed in labour economics a field of research that rarely engages in conversation with the populism scholarship. Decomposition methods allow us to quantify the relative contribution to the rise of European populism of the three aforementioned arguments, identify the marginal supporters of populist parties, and last but not least distinguish between common characteristics driving support for populism and idiosyncratic factors that explain support only in specific countries. Synthesizing data on voter’ opinions from the World Values Survey and European Values Survey with data on multidimensional party positions from the Comparative Manifesto Project, we show that the rise of populism is driven not so much by changes in voters’ opinions but rather by changes in party positions on cultural issues and the weight voters attach to these issues. We also find that this trend is common across various countries, except for certain Eastern European countries, where voters’ opinions have shifted.  Our findings help advance research on populism by tackling long-standing open questions with new methods.

Elena Baro (Norwegian University of Science and Technology) Cultural Backlash in Europe. A comparative study

Inglehart and Norris have proposed a theory arguing that the growing «authoritarian populism» in America and Europe is caused by the “cultural backlash”: a conservative and religious mobilization in favor of traditional and Christian values, and an «authoritarian reflex» against everything foreign triggered by economic insecurity and increasing economic inequality. As a description of the social forces that brought Trump to power, the model works well, but in Europe the situation is more complex. The parties Norris and Inglehart name “authoritarian populists” are a rather mixed bag, and the backlash argument may fit some European countries better than others. This article constitutes an attempt to refine the cultural backlash theory, by analyzing the extent to which it finds correspondence in four countries having successful authoritarian populist parties and yet different contexts. It also aims at providing an analysis that acknowledges how the differences in political, economic, and historical background of different European countries come into play when explaining the dynamics of the support for authoritarian populism. We have selected Hungary, Poland, Italy, and Norway as test-cases, because each of these have parties categorized as “authoritarian populist” by Norris and Inglehart, yet they are different when it comes to their history of authoritarian and democratic rule, the role of religion in society and their experience of ethnic diversity and migration. Using data from the European Values Study, this article nuanced the paradigm of far-right supporters: while confirming how anti-immigrants attitudes and authoritarian sentiments constitute the common denominator for supporting authoritarian populist parties, our study adds to the literature by revealing important differences in social forces and underlying dynamics determining the support for authoritarian populists, that go beyond the cultural backlash explanation.




December 13, 2021
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm