Populism

Debate Moderator(s):  Sergei Guriev

The rise of populism is one of the most important political, social and economic phenomena in recent years, both in advanced and emerging economies. Depending on the definition, in the last ten years the European populists’ voting share in general elections increased by about 10 percentage points relative to the previous decade. In some countries, populists got elected and even re-elected. 
While it is clear that the recent rise of populism is important, there is no consensus on why it has happened, why now, why in some countries and why not in others. There is no agreement whether it is actually a problem and why – and if it is a problem, what we should do about it. There is even no consensus on what populism actually is and how to measure it. 
This is why CEPR has started a Research and Policy Network on Populism and is now launching this VoxEU debate page on populism focusing on four broad questions:

(1)    What is populism, how to define it and how to quantify its rise? 
(2)    What are the drivers of the recent rise of populism: cultural or economic, or the interaction between the culture and economics? Was it caused by secular trends or by one-off events such as the recent crisis? Was it related to the revolution in information and communications technologies?
(3)    What are the implications of the rise of populism for economic growth, for other socio-economic outcomes including inequality, for political institutions? What do populists do once they are in power? How does their higher popularity affect policies if they are still not in power?
(4)    Is the recent rise of populism a problem and if it is, what should be done about it?

Please register or log in to post a commentary to this debate

Lead Commentaries

Yotam Margalit , 20 December 2019

A common explanation for the rise of populism is economic insecurity driven by forces such as trade, immigration, or the financial crisis. This column, part of the Vox debate on populism, argues that such view overstates the role of economic insecurity as a driver. In particular, it conflates economic insecurity being important in explaining the overall populist vote and being important by affecting election outcomes on the margin. The empirical findings indicate that the share of populist support explained by economic insecurity is modest.  

Lubos Pastor, Pietro Veronesi , 12 December 2019

Economic anxiety and insecurity are often cited as drivers of populism, so why has populism emerged over the past few years in rich countries and in good times? This column, part of the Vox debate on the topic, argues that income inequality plays a role. When the economy is strong, everyone fares well but the rich fare especially well, fuelling inequality and resentment. Populism in the form of anti-globalisation may reduce everyone’s consumption, but it affects the rich disproportionately and thus appeals to many voters in richer countries. In poorer countries, however, voters are less willing to give up consumption for equality.

Italo Colantone, Piero Stanig , 10 December 2019

Populist parties tend to share an anti-establishment stance and the claim to represent ordinary people versus the elites. This column, part of the Vox debate on populism, argues that despite these similarities, populist parties are fundamentally heterogeneous and the drivers of their support tend to be diverse. It also argues that the economy and culture should be seen as tightly interrelated rather than mutually exclusive explanations for the populist surge, and that rather than being a simple ‘protest vote’, the surge might reflect a new political cleavage resulting from the contraposition of winners and losers from structural economic changes.

Guido Tabellini , 29 October 2019

Despite an increase in economic inequality and a decline in social mobility, today those who are 'left behind' seem to care more about immigration and civil rights than they do about redistribution, and sometimes support policies that run counter to their economic interests. This column, part of the Vox debate on populism, offers a potential explanation for this: a shift from the traditional class-based distinction and divide between left and right to a distinction based on cultural attitudes and education. This change is having profound effects on the political systems of advanced democracies organised along the traditional left versus right divide.

Dani Rodrik , 29 October 2019

There are essentially two schools of thought on the roots of populism, one that focuses on culture and another that focuses on economics. This column, part of a VoxEU debate, examines the drivers from each of these perspectives. It also argues that there are times when economic populism may be the only way to forestall its much more dangerous cousin, political populism.

Barry Eichengreen , 29 October 2019

Explanations for variants of populism are typically framed as a contest between culture and economics. This column, part of a Vox debate on the subject, looks at the arguments for both and uses data from the British Election Study surveys to show that populism, and Brexit in particular, is as much about economics as it is about culture and identity. Populism rooted in economics can be addressed with policies that enhance socioeconomic mobility, reduce income disparities, increase economic security, and help left-behind places. It is less clear how to address authoritarian, xenophobic populism rooted in cultural identity concerns.

Sergei Guriev , 29 October 2019

The rise of populism is one of the most important political, social, and economic phenomena in recent years. This column introduces a new Vox debate which focuses on four broad questions:  What is populism and how can we quantify its rise? What are the drivers of the recent rise of populism? What are the implications for economic growth, for other socioeconomic outcomes, and for political institutions? And if the recent rise of populism is a problem, what should be done about it?