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ECPR Standing Group on the European Union 10th Biennial Conference LUISS, Rome

Populist Leadership and Charisma: A Comparison between Farage and Grillo

European Politics
Cristina Calo'
University of Edinburgh
Cristina Calo'
University of Edinburgh

Populism has been often embodied by strong and controversial leaders. Their political success has been ascribed alternatively to their personal abilities, or the country cultural context (e.g. caudillismo). More often their fascinating power over the masses has been attributed to their ‘charisma’. However, academic debate is highly polarised around this issue. While discourse analysis and strategic approach to populism support the charismatic assumption, thin-ideology approach strongly antagonise it. Nevertheless, the controversy charismatic/non charismatic has not find a solution yet as populist leadership has rarely been empirically studied, and there are not enough data in support of either stance. This paper proposes a simplified empirical model that synthesizes the major approaches to charismatic leadership and includes the personal/collective charisma dichotomy, thus enabling the researcher to account for both highly personalistic and non-personalistic types of leadership. It applies this framework to the study of two of the most successful contemporary populist leaders in Europe: Nigel Farage (UKIP) and Beppe Grillo (Five Stars Movement). The findings suggest that some essential features of charismatic leadership are also constitutive elements of populism (e.g. demonization of the enemy). Furthermore, when applying the model to a sample of the leaders’ public speeches (2011-2016) and through the usage of qualitative content analysis, it provides empirical evidence for the charismatic nature of both Farage and Grillo’s leadership. Inasmuch as, preliminary data show that both leaders tap into all of the charismatic indicators.
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