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Populists in Government (Paul Kenny & Jakob Schwörer)

April 26, 2021 @ 12:30 pm - 1:30 pm

Speakers: Paul D. Kenny (Australian Catholic University) and Jakob Schwörer (Leuphana University Lüneburg and Uppsala University).

While populist parties are widely seen as the hallmark of anti-establishment politics, populist parties and leaders have increasingly been successful in taking office in government. There are numerous examples of populist parties that have joined governing colaitions, such as FPÖ in Austria and the Lega in Italy. Other populist parties such as the Dansk Folkeparti in Denmark and the PVV in the Netherlands have supported minority governments. In India, Hungary and the United States populist leaders have spearheaded governments.

Jakob Schwörer will talk about his recent publication in Government & Opposition titled “Less populist in Power? Online Communication of populist Parties in coalition Governments”. Using a classical quantitative content analysis of 1,210 Facebook posts published by populist parties in Italy, Spain, Austria and New Zealand, his article examines whether opposition parties are more populist and nativist than those in coalition governments. The findings indicate that populists do not decrease the degree of anti-elite and people-centred messages when they are in power but rather change the type of elites they attack and the antagonist groups they juxtapose. (Adapted from paper abstract). Please find the paper here.

Paul Kenny will talk about what it means for democracy when populists come to power. Will they suppress the opposition and clamp down on the press? Or will they restrict immigration and repress minorities? The answer depends, in part, on how we understand populism itself. If populism is understood to be synonymous with illiberalism or as having an elective affinity with the far right, the answer is essentially baked into definition; leaders with authoritarian or exclusionary ideas, policies, and constituencies will naturally seek to erode political and civil rights once they gain power. If instead populism is equated with redistributive, statist, and expansive fiscal policy, the effect on democracy could be benign or even beneficial, at least to the extent that socioeconomic equality is perceived as a necessary criterion for a functioning democracy. These tautologies can be avoided if populism is instead understood in more normatively neutral terms as a political strategy. Populism in this sense is a distinctive, low-engagement political strategy, in which the leader of a highly personalistic political movement or organization appeals directly to the people through mass communication in order to gain or retain power. Populism is thus distinct from programmatic and patronage-based strategies, which rely on rule-bound party organizations and alliances of factions respectively to secure power. Conceived of in this way, a more interesting set of predictions arises. Populist government is more likely to be associated with the erosion of political and civil rights, not for ideological reasons, but because of the absence of the informal constraints of party organization that apply to other categories of political leader. This presentation draws on the conclusions of a new book project, Buying Power: An Economic History of Populism in addition to a number of recently published articles and book chapters. Please find a paper outlying the central argument here.

Zoom Webinar link (no registration required): https://radbouduniversity.zoom.us/j/85943932145?pwd=OXRwc1FJS0FiaFg2WlFHaHVqUnd2Zz09  


April 26, 2021
12:30 pm - 1:30 pm


Zoom Webinar