Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Limits of Populism

Populism is a powerful force but it seems unlikely to supersede traditional left-right distinctions. A new Pew report provides data across 8 Western European countries that makes this point. The data are useful and illuminating but they do have their limitations: the operationalizations of populist and mainstream are narrow; there is no voting preference data, only party favorability; and many parties of interest are not covered including left socialist parties (e.g., the Left Party in Germany) and all green parties.
Still, the data are well worth a careful look, whatever one's priors on European politics or populism in general. Above all, they indicate that the struggle between left and right remains of huge relevance in the Age of Populism.
"In Western Europe, populist parties and movements have disrupted the region’s political landscape by making significant gains at the ballot box – from the Brexit referendum to national elections in Italy. The anti-establishment sentiments helping to fuel the populist wave can be found on the left, center and right of the ideological spectrum, as a Pew Research Center survey highlights. People who hold these populist views are more frustrated with traditional institutions, such as their national parliament and the European Union, than are their mainstream counterparts. They are also more concerned about the economy and anxious about the impact of immigrants on their society.
This dissatisfaction may in part be why they are more favorable toward populist parties; still, regardless of populist sentiments, people tend to favor parties that reflect their own ideological orientation. With regard to policy, too, ideology continues to matter. Left-right differences carry more weight than populist sympathies when it comes to how people view the government’s involvement in the economy, as well as the rights of gays and lesbians and women’s role in society."
Regardless of populist sentiments, anti-establishment frustration and the rise of populism in Western Europe, people tend to favor parties that reflect their own ideological orientation.

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