Political Identities: The Missing Link in the Study of Populism

Comparative Politics
Political Parties
Political Ideology
Survey Research
Voting Behaviour
Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser
Universidad Diego Portales
Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser
Universidad Diego Portales
Carlos Meléndez
Universidad Diego Portales

Political identities are crucial for understanding electoral behavior: individuals who identify with a political party behave as loyal supporters, who would hardly vote for old or new competitors. Although this is an obvious observation, it has received little attention in the study of populism – a set of ideas that not only portrays established political parties as corrupt and self-serving entities, but also depicts ‘the people’ as a homogenous and virtuous community that should be in charge of the government. In this contribution, we develop a novel theory that claims that populism can thrive only when an anti-establishment political identity exists. The latter is different from the two sides of partisanship (positive and negative political identities) often invoked since the classic study ‘The American Voter’, because it alludes to an emotional and rational repulsion towards all established political parties of a given country. We test our theory by analyzing original survey data from contemporary Chile that shows the relationship between populist attitudes and an anti-establishment political identity. Given that an important part of the electorate identifies with the two major political coalitions that have been structuring the electoral game since the transition to democracy in 1989, there is limited space for the rise of populism in the country. This empirical finding has important consequences for the study of populism, particularly when it comes to analyzing both its emergence and electoral potential.
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"In all forms of Government the people is the true Legislator" - Edmund Burke

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