Support for Right-wing Populism in Comparative Perspective

Populism has become a central piece of the political landscape in recent years. It has drawn the attention of scholars, pundits, and the news media alike. So much so that “populism” was declared the Word of the Year in 2017 by the Cambridge Dictionary. The increasing electoral support of populist leaders disquieted scholars and political specialists due to the threat it represents to democracy. In Europe, the rise of far-right populist leaders has some disturbing similarities to previous reactionary populist movements of the first half of the 20th Century, which led to tragic outcomes and two world wars. While specialists argue that populists can revitalize democracy when they are in opposition due to populists’ attack on the political elite insulation, scholars also have alerted to the danger that populists represent to liberal democracy when they occupy positions of power. When elected, populist leaders tend to weaken checks and balances and undermine the separation of power, claiming that the political institutions are dysfunctional and a barrier to the “will of the people.” They also threaten democratic inclusiveness because they are less likely to make compromises, and their rhetoric stigmatizes some minority groups that don’t belong to “the people” they claim to represent, often composed of white nationals born population.

Because of the rise of electoral support for populists around the world and the threat they represent to liberal democracy and inclusiveness when in power, it is crucial to understand the causes of popular support for populist leaders and investigate if their anti-establishment and “otherizing” rhetoric matters for their electoral success.

This project seeks to disentangle seeks to disentangle how much the popular appeal of right-wing populist leaders is explained by voters’ partisanship, populists attack on the current political institutions and their anti-elitist and anti-establishment positions, which give them the epithet “populists,” or populists right-wing, often far-right, conservative, and otherizing ideology, which give them the label “right-wing.”


Diogo Ferrari
Political Scientist