In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Populism

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Theoretical Approaches
  • Populism and Economic Crisis

Political Science Populism
Lenka Bustikova, Petra Guasti
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0300


Populism is an anti-establishment, anti-elite ideology and political strategy. Populism as an ideology adopts a discursive approach and focuses on the tensions between the “pure people” and the “corrupt elite.” The “people” can be subsumed into three discursive frames: the nation, the (economic) underdog, and the ordinary people (Canovan 1981, cited under Theoretical Approaches). The narrative of the people as a “nation” is hostile to migrants and ethnic minorities. The populist rhetoric of the “underdog’’ expresses anxieties related to economic differences. Finally, the language of the “ordinary people” resonates with visions of a simple, everyday life. Populism viewed as a political strategy focuses on its agency, or the ability of populist movements to instrumentally appeal to followers, to maintain a direct relationship between the leader and the followers, and to exploit existing institutional weaknesses. Populists target the establishment and the elites selectively. Populists can become the elite. Yet populist politicians (re)elected to office continue to use anti-elite appeals to delegitimize opponents, even after they have come to represent the very establishment they had attacked in the past. Scholarship on populism has grown exponentially in recent years. In Europe, it is rooted in the study of the radical right, which emphasizes exclusionary identity-driven politics. The rise of populism is often viewed as a consequence of an economic crisis or socioeconomic changes in general. Populist critique also targets the institutional underpinnings of liberal democracy. Populists seek to strengthen majoritarian elements of democracy and undermine minority protections. Populist leaders seek power, and the presence of populist parties in the electoral arena, parliament, government, or presidency reshapes political agendas. Media is a crucial tool of communication used by populist leaders to gain power and to stay in power. Social media, in particular, allows populists to establish and maintain a direct communication channel to their supporters, and populists accuse traditional media of being “corrupt.” Populists are omnipresent. In the West, populism is mostly exclusionary. In the Global South, and especially in Latin America, it is often inclusionary, as it broadens the scope of the people to the previously politically excluded poor and indigenous communities (Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2013, cited under General Overviews). Regionally, this bibliography focuses on populism in Europe and Latin America, but it also includes the United States and other countries (Stockemer 2019, under General Overviews).

General Overviews

Rovira Kaltwasser, et al. 2017 reviews theoretical approaches toward populism, topical issues, and country-level studies. Another comprehensive review is Rydgren 2018, an all-encompassing study at the intersection of populism and radical-right mobilization. Urbinati 2019, Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2013, and Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser 2018 are analytical review articles that summarize the literature. Urbinati 2019 and Taggart 2000 discuss the relationship between populism and democracy. Stockemer 2019 offers a comparative view. Team Populism at Brigham Young University assembles an array of scholars and resources on populism.

  • Mudde, Cas, and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser. “Exclusionary vs. Inclusionary Populism: Comparing Contemporary Europe and Latin America.” Government and Opposition 48.2 (2013): 147–174.

    DOI: 10.1017/gov.2012.11

    Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser compare contemporary populisms in Europe and Latin America. They identify two regional subtypes: exclusionary populism in Europe, and inclusionary populism in Latin America.

  • Mudde, Cas, and Cristobal Rovira Kaltwasser. “Studying Populism in Comparative Perspective: Reflections on the Contemporary and Future Research Agenda.” Comparative Political Studies 51.13 (2018): 1667–1693.

    DOI: 10.1177/0010414018789490

    Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser discuss advantages of the so-called ideational approach to the comparative study of populism, and outline four avenues of future research.

  • Rovira Kaltwasser, Cristobal, Paul A. Taggart, Paulina Ochoa Espejo, and Pierre Ostiguy, eds. The Oxford Handbook of Populism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2017.

    The handbook provides state of the art of the scholarship on populism. It lays out the cumulated knowledge on populism, but also the ongoing discussions and research gaps on this topic. It is divided into four sections, covering conceptual approaches, populist forces, interaction between populism and various issues, and normative debates on populism.

  • Rydgren, Jens, ed. The Oxford Handbook of the Radical Right. New York: Oxford University Press, 2018.

    The handbook focuses on how the radical right manifests itself as movements rather than parties, and includes a number of case studies both in Europe and beyond. The chapters cover concepts and definitions; ideologies and discourses; and a range of contemporary issues, including religion, globalization, gender, activism, and case studies.

  • Stockemer, Daniel, ed. Populism around the World: A Comparative Perspective. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature, 2019.

    The edited book provides a global overview of populist actors and strategies around the globe from a comparative perspective. It shows how parties from both the radical left and right use a populist discourse.

  • Taggart, Paul. Populism: Concepts in the Social Sciences. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 2000.

    Taggart focuses on the problems of populism and how it relates to democracy, particularly to representative politics.

  • Team Populism.

    Team Populism brings together renowned scholars from Europe and the Americas to study the causes and consequences of populism.

  • Urbinati, Nadia. “Political Theory of Populism.” Annual Review of Political Science 22.6 (2019): 111–127.

    DOI: 10.1146/annurev-polisci-050317-070753

    Urbinati illustrates the context-based character of populism and how its cyclical appearances reflect the forms of representative government. It reviews contemporary interpretations of populism and sketches the main characteristics of populism in power. It also explains how populism transforms the fundamentals of democracy.

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