Four European scholars have released an important study of populist politics in Western democracies. Their conclusion: yep, economic insecurity is central to, as they put it, both the demand for, and supply of, populism in western countries in recent years. Here are the key bits from a summary of their work that was published on VoxEU:
But what about cultural factors? Don't these populist voters just hate immigrants and people of color and that's all there is to it? Here's what the authors have to say about cultural factors:We argue that economic reasons are the most important causes of the current wave of populism.In western countries in the last decade a global crisis that has affected both markets and sovereign states simultaneously, leaving many people without a safety net. This had not been the case in the past: the crises of the 1970s were mainly market crises, while in the 1990s there were government crises while markets were thriving. Over the past ten years, neither markets nor governments have had the inability to guarantee economic security. This has shaken the confidence in traditional political parties and institutions. As a result, there has been an increase in fear, aggravated by other threats such as mass migration.The rare combination of markets’ and governments’ inability to guarantee economic security has shaken the confidence in traditional political parties and institutions, leading to an increase in fear that has been aggravated by other threats such as mass migration. In a recent paper, we show how this global dual crisis affects the demand and supply of populism systematically, and argue that a key for understanding both demand and supply of populism is the effect of economic insecurity on voter turnout.
Voting, and voting for a populist party, are affected also by two cultural variables:
· Trust in political parties: People with greater confidence in political parties are more likely to participate in elections, and to vote for a non-populist party. We measured trust on a scale between 0 and 10. A drop of 5 points on this scale would increases the probability of voting for a populist party by 7.7% of the sample mean. Trust in political parties affects participation: a decline in trust of 5 percentage points lowers the chance of participation in elections by 8.8 percentage points, almost 11% of the unconditional mean electoral turnout.
· Adverse attitudes towards immigrants: Those with more adverse attitudes towards immigrants are less likely to participate in elections, and more likely to vote for a populist party if they participated. These variables are themselves driven by economic insecurity. Using (pseudo) panel data, we can show that people who experienced an increase in economic insecurity lose faith in political parties and develop more adverse attitudes towards immigrants (Figure 1). Hence economic insecurity drives turnout and voting decisions, both directly and indirectly, because it leads people to change their beliefs and attitudes.
So, there is a cultural channel causing people to vote, and vote for populism but not a cultural cause. The cause is still economic insecurity. Trust and attitudes towards immigrants are proximate causes of the populist vote, not deep drivers.Important work. I commend it to you.