comparative analysis

Populist Parties in Europe: Agents of Discontent?, Stijn van Kessel

Research Papers & Analysis


Populism is a concept that is currently in vogue among political commentators and is, more often than not, used pejoratively. The phenomenon of populism is typically seen as something adverse and, in the European context, routinely related to xenophobic politics. What populism exactly is and who its representatives across Europe are, however, often remains unclear. This text has two main aims: to identify populist parties in 21st-century Europe and to explain their electoral performance. It argues that populist parties should not be dismissed as dangerous pariahs out of hand but, rather, that their rise tells us something about the state of representative democracy. The study also shows that the performance of populist parties is to a large extend dependent on their own ability to present themselves as credible alternatives to the established parties.

The study has a broad scope, including populist parties of various ideological kinds – thus moving beyond examples of the ‘right’ – and covering long-established Western European countries as well as post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. It presents the results of an innovative mixed-methods research project, combining a fuzzy set Qualitative Comparative Analysis (fsQCA) of 31 European countries with three in-depth case studies of the Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom.

Published: February 2015

Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan

Sample Chapter:

The Promise and Perils of Populism: Global Perspectives, edited by Carlos de la Torre

Research Papers & Analysis


From the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square to the Tea Party in the United States to the campaign to elect indigenous leader Evo Morales in Bolivia, modern populist movements command international attention and compel political and social change. When citizens demand “power to the people,” they evoke corrupt politicians, imperialists, or oligarchies that have appropriated power from its legitimate owners. These stereotypical narratives belie the vague and often contradictory definitions of the concept of “the people” and the many motives of those who use populism as a political tool.

In The Promise and Perils of Populism, Carlos de la Torre assembles a group of international scholars to explore the ambiguous meanings and profound implications of grassroots movements across the globe. These trenchant essays explore how fragile political institutions allow populists to achieve power, while strong institutions confine them to the margins of political systems. Their comparative case studies illuminate how Latin American, African, and Thai populists have sought to empower marginalized groups of people, while similar groups in Australia, Europe, and the United States often exclude people whom they consider to possess different cultural values. While analyzing insurrections in Latin America, advocacy groups in the United States, Europe, and Australia, and populist parties in Asia and Africa, the contributors also pose questions and agendas for further research.

This volume on contemporary populism from a comparative perspective could not be more timely, and scholars from a variety of disciplines will find it an invaluable contribution to the literature.

Published: January 2015

Publisher: University Press of Kentucky