European Populism

A third research focus is the political economy of European populism.

In a working paper with Jeffry Frieden, recently presented at Harvard's Seminar on the State and Capitalism Since 1800, we examine whether labor market spending affects support for populist political parties opposed to European integration and globalization. Examining a panel of nearly 200 elections held in western Europe from 1990-2017 and analyzing pooled cross-sectional data from eight waves of the European Social Survey, we find evidence that populist parties are less successful where public spending on welfare is higher and has been cut less substantially from historical levels. The research suggests that, while the growing strength of populist political parties is rooted in long-term economic and cultural changes, compensatory social spending may moderate their appeal.

I have also contributed to a research project led by Jane Mansbridge and Stephen Macedo that examines the relationship between populism and democratic theory.  Drawing from normative theory, an empirical analysis of the U.S. populists and Spanish Podemos movement, and a quantitative coding of the features of populism identified by contemporary scholarship, we develop a typology of populism’s core and non-core features. We find that appeals to exclusive or homogenous conceptions of the people, charismatic leadership, the vilification of vulnerable outgroups, and a disregard for deliberation are often correlated with populist movements but are not found in all populist movements. We conclude that while populist parties do have tendencies that are dangerous to liberal democracy, these need not be fundamental. Especially when in opposition, populist parties can benefit democracy, inspiring political participation and raising ignored grievances that might not be possible within elitist and pluralist conceptions of politics.