Populism. It’s not the study of popularity or a famous pimple popping compilation. It’s not anything fun at all actually. Some would say it’s a political ideology. Some would say it’s a mobilization mechanism. Others might call it a political style. One thing that populism truly is? On the rise in the West.
I first gained insight on populism during my time studying Fascism in Italy. A portion of my studies was focused upon researching women in radical right populist parties. Something I noticed from my work was that there are really no ways to compare populist parties that are gaining political traction. Many of them have different ideologies and issues that bind them. However, the leaders of these parties all have one thing in common: they are loud, outspoken, and target the common working man, the “forgotten people.”
To brush up on my knowledge of populism in the year 2017, I decided to attend “Into the Mainstream” a lesson on the radical right populism sweeping over the world. The talk was given by Reinhard Heinisch, a professor from the University of Salzburg. Although he specialized in Austrian studies, Dr. Heinisch gave excellent perspectives on how to categorize and understand populism. His lessons are as follows:
In the early 2000s, populism concentrated in two or three European countries, namely France. It gradually spread to rest of Europe in different manifestations. These days populism takes on two main looks:
- Parties that call principles of liberal democracies into question (checks and balances, judiciary, media, etc)
- Parties that break taboos, discriminate against political minority, nativist/nationalist
These parties tend to draw in young, male, blue-collar voters. These voters are susceptible to populist ideology because of the potential economic losses they see from immigrants taking their blue collar jobs. Furthermore, women are less likely to support these parties because of the anti-feminist language that the parties boast. However, this does not mean they are not without leadership. There are many populist parties that have female leaders, people like Marine Le Pen who just recently lost the French Presidential Election. These parties tend to prioritize security, whether that means protecting their nation from immigrants (Western Europe) or protecting themselves from radical Western ideals (Eastern Europe). Even more interesting to note, is that Russia is funding many of these movements in ways that it cannot support mainstream parties. These mainstream parties are too afraid of the repercussions that come with having Russia back them. However, populist parties are all about breaking taboos, not only in speech, but also in behavior.
The talk by Heinisch gave an overall picture of what populism looks like in the West. But each party is unique in its views and thus takes lots of research to understand. Because of that, I have linked some articles below that give further insight into the political issue that is radical right populism: