Building: VMP 8 Floor: 2 Room: 206
Populist parties and movements are on the rise. New scholarly work suggests that these forces can be understood in terms of their ideas or discourse, as political organizations that envision a Manichaean struggle between the will of the common people and a conspiring elite. However, scholarly efforts to understand populism’s causes have still not progressed very far, relying mostly on traditional voting theories based on issue positions and class interests, without incorporating the impact of populist ideas per se. Furthermore, the challenge of collecting precise, accurate data on populist ideas—for parties and voters—has not been fully surmounted.
To respond to these concerns, we created a cross-regional scholarly network, Team Populism, dedicated to the scientific study of populism’s causes and consequences. In summer 2018, Team Populism is publishing an edited volume (Routledge, Extremism and Democracy Series) proposing a research program based explicitly on the ideational approach to populism. This program builds off the definition mentioned above by providing a causal theory that takes populist ideas into account, and methodological prescriptions for measuring populism at all levels of analysis. This causal theory argues that populism exists as a discursive frame or a set of attitudes that is widespread among ordinary citizens, and that these attitudes lie dormant until activated by contexts of weak democratic governance and policy failure.
The volume not only develops this theory at the aggregate and individual levels, but assesses a broad set of methodological tools for measuring populism, including expert surveys and new survey inventories for measuring populist attitudes, in addition to traditional techniques of textual analysis. Finally, it tests the causal theory using multiple methods, including case studies, spatial analysis, multi-country analyses of mass political behavior, and experiments. These tests are conducted in Europe and the Americas.
The volume is not intended to be the final word on populism, but the catalyst for a more robust scientific conversation (including within Team Populism). To facilitate this conversation, we propose a roundtable discussion at the ECPR General Conference in Hamburg. For the roundtable, we plan an initial 5-7 minute presentation by one of the book contributors to summarize its content (listed as "discussant"). We have then invited four political scientists with a strong track record of research and a connection to populism studies to each spend 5-7 minutes discussing the book’s strengths and weaknesses and how future research could build on, or respond to, the ideational approach.
While the volume will be of general interest to political scientists, it has a special connection to ECPR and especially the Standing Group on Extremism and Democracy. Team Populism was originally conceived at the 2014 ECPR General Conference and has participated actively in ECPR meetings since, including a Summer Session in Nijmegen and the Joint Sessions in Pisa; many of the members of the Standing Group are members of Team Populism. Presenting the book at a roundtable at the ECPR General Conference strengthens this relationship while reaching out to a broader social scientific community interested in populism.