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ECPR Journals Virtual Special Issue

Towards a Definition of 'Left-Wing Populism': A Comparison Between Podemos and France Insoumise

Comparative Politics
European Politics
Party Manifestos
Political Parties
Southern Europe
Pablo Castaño Tierno
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Pablo Castaño Tierno
Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

The literature is showing a growing interest in populism. However, most scholars have focused on right-wing populism (e.g. Mudde, 2007). The scarcity of research on European left-wing populist parties is at the root of the lack of a precise definition of 'left-wing populism'. This paper intends to contribute to the specification of the concept of 'left-wing populism' through a comparative analysis of Podemos (Spain) and France Insoumise (France). Both parties share two features that allow to conduct a comparative study: their political discourse is based on a people-elite opposition inspired by the work of Laclau (2005) and Mouffe (2005), and both present innovative organizational structures –different from traditional parties.

The analysis is therefore focused on two dimensions: the discourse and the inner structure of both parties. Both dimensions are analyzed through Mudde and Kaltwasser’s (2013) notion of populism as a 'thin ideology' that creates a discursive opposition between ‘the elite’ and ‘the people’ (an ideational approach to populism). The comparative analysis leads me to propose a definition of ‘left-wing populism’ composed by two features: 1) a non-ethnic definition of the people, and 2) the defense of Keynesian economic policies and mechanisms of direct democracy. By contrast, the analysis does not show any direct relation between the populist character of the analyzed parties and their inner structuration.

The findings are discussed in the light of current debates in the literature on populism. The conceptual specification proposed in the present research is particularly useful for the empirical analysis of new political parties that seem to hold an intermediate position between left-wing populism and right-wing populism, such as Italy's Five Stars Movement.

The paper is based on the qualitative content analysis (Braun and Clarke, 2006) of speeches and public interventions of Podemos' and France Insoumise's leaders, and documents produced by both parties (manifestos and inner regulations).
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