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The Electoral Consequences of Populist Participation in Government

Comparative Politics
 
Elections
 
Government
 
Institutions
 
Political Parties
 
Coalition
 
Causality
 
Presenter
Pedro Riera
IE School of Global and Public Affairs
Authors
Pedro Riera
IE School of Global and Public Affairs

Abstract
The paper examines whether including populist political parties in government coalitions has an impact on their future electoral prospects. According to the theory on party strategy developed by Meguid (2008), this is an accommodating strategy and we expect they will decrease their vote shares after their participation in the executive. Contrary to that, it could be argued that reaching the government makes the issues they own more salient and, above all, leads voters to perceive them as more legitimate. In order to address this question, we take the Chapel Hill surveys to identify populist political parties and analyse the cases of coalition cabinets in Europe where non-populist parties needed to decide whether to ostracise populists or incorporate them into the government. The findings suggest that non-populist parties hinder the rise of populism by including them in coalitions, which has ultimately important consequences for the future of representative democracy in Europe. However, this effect is conditioned by the electoral system of the country and the level of ideological polarization of its party system. Investigating empirically the observable implications of this argument is difficult, however, as there are few comparative cases of populist participation in government and, above all, becoming coalition partners is contingent upon parties’ previous electoral performance. Parties’ electoral fortunes are affected by factors like organizational capacity, ideological consistency and appealing leadership. These features account for variation in vote shares and, as a consequence, for the fact that some parties get into governments whereas others do not. In order to address these two empirical problems, in the second part of the paper we will focus on the Spanish case, where we have a left-wing (Podemos) and a right-wing (Vox) populist party. Taking advantage of the discontinuities generated by thresholds of representation at local elections in this country (i.e., 5%), and distinguishing between municipalities where the winner of the elections obtains a majority and municipalities where it does not, we will estimate the causal effect of entering municipal government on the future vote shares of populist parties.
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