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ECPR Summer School in Methods & Techniques 2020

Lost in Modernisation? Populist Voters Between Resentment, Protest and Anti-Immigration

Political Sociology
Koen Abts
University of Leuven
Koen Abts
University of Leuven

In this paper we argue that populism is structurally embedded in the crisis of organized modernity and test the hypothesis that populist parties mobilize the resentment of the losers of modernization. Our proposition is that resentment results more likely in an ethno-populist habitus masterfully expressed in the slogan of ‘our own people first’ as a combination of nativism, authoritarianism, populism and welfare particularism. The crux of ethno-populism is that its discourse of ‘our own people first’ is responsive to the feelings of disintegration, relative deprivation and powerlessness of the discontented natives, while the populist revanchism as a form of dualistic discursive closure succeed to scapegoat the ‘cultural Other’ and the political establishment as the origin of all problems and as the enemies of the people as a substantial community (ethnos) and as the absolute sovereign body (demos). First, this paper problematize the concept of losers of modernization by distinguishing absolute, subjective and relative forms of deprivation, while making a distinction between winners, swimmers and losers. Our argument is that most analyses of populist voters are neglecting the largest in-between group of swimmers. Second, this paper is investigating the genesis of social resentment and its relationship to populist attitudes and voting behavior. We operationalize resentment using four latent constructs: ontological insecurity, economic insecurity, discrimination and powerlessness. Third, proposed theory is empirically tested by examining to what extent and how structural positions and feelings of resentment have an effect on the anti-immigrant and authoritarian attitudes, on political discontent and on extreme right-wing voting. The empirical test is based on the Flemisch data of the 2007 and 2010 Belgian Elections Study using multinomial logistic regression and Latent Class Analysis.
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