Populist Leaders and Coterie Charisma, Duncan McDonnell

Research Papers & Analysis


Is the relationship between populist leaders and those in their parties always charismatic? Although many scholars of populism assume this, the attribution of ‘charisma’ is invariably based on how leaders present themselves rather than how purported followers within parties perceive them. In line with the literature on charisma, this article takes the latter approach, using interviews conducted between 2009 and 2011 with 111 elected representatives and grassroots members (i.e. ‘the coterie’) to examine how three European populist leaders regularly termed ‘charismatic’ – Silvio Berlusconi, Christoph Blocher and Umberto Bossi – were viewed within their parties. The article finds evidence of three different leadership types, with Bossi very clearly satisfying the conditions for coterie charisma, Berlusconi largely (but not entirely) fulfilling them, and Blocher only partially doing so. Finally, it presents new data showing the very damaging effects of Bossi’s subsequent downfall on his party’s organisation.

Article first published online: 13 FEB 2015, Political Studies, DOI: 10.1111/1467-9248.12195,