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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Do Persons with Low Life Satisfaction Vote More for Populist Parties?

Political Psychology
Electoral Behaviour
Political Ideology
Annika Lindholm
Université de Lausanne
Annika Lindholm
Université de Lausanne
Georg Lutz
Université de Lausanne

The literature on voting for populist parties has strongly focused on socio-structural (e.g. Mayer 1999; Werts et. al. 2013), macroeconomic (e.g. Arzheimer 2009; Rooduijn&Burgoon 2018) or anti-elite and anti-immigration attitudes (Lucassen&Lubbers 2012) as key factors in explaining voting for populist parties. In this paper, we extend this focus to the psychological level and assess how general life satisfaction affects preference for left and right-wing populist parties.

We argue that low life satisfaction reinforces populist attitudes and eventually increases the likelihood to vote for populist parties. It is relevant to consider life satisfaction in explaining populist voting, since the negative emotions that are embedded in low life satisfaction may speak to the populist conflictual logic of an opposition between the people and the elite, a feed a sense of hostility to the outgroup. Furthermore, low life satisfaction is also likely to engender a feeling of relative deprivation that has been linked to populist success (e.g. Spruyt et. al. 2016; Mols&Jetten 2016). By contrast, high life satisfaction has been associated with a willingness to maintain status quo (Schlenker et. al. 2012), which could mean that person who are satisfied with their lives vote more for mainstream parties. The psychological underpinnings of the populist vote, and especially the influence of life satisfaction, become therefore essential to better understand the success of populist parties.

By using European social survey data, we test the influence of life satisfaction on populist voting in several European countries. The data suggests that persons with low life satisfaction are more likely to vote for populist than for mainstream parties. In addition, this relationship is moderated by a feeling of relative deprivation, which is likely to be stronger among dissatisfied individuals in times when the overall economic conditions are favourable in a country.
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