Alexander Wuttke, Christian Schimpf, Harald Schoen
Populist Citizens in four European Countries: Widespread Dissatisfaction goes with Contradictory but Pro-democratic Regime Preferences

Swiss Political Science Review, 2023: 29, Heft 2, S. 246-257
ISSN: 1424-7755 (print), 1662-6370 (online)

Are populist citizens a threat to democracy? Some philosophers view populism and democracy as irreconcilable conceptions of governing. Another line of thought describes populism as useful democratic corrective. Drawing on nationally representative surveys from four European countries, this study investigates how European populist citizens think about democracy. Descriptive analyses reveal that populist worldviews only weakly predict how people think about democracy. On average, populist and non-populist citizens aspire to similar kinds of political systems and both endorse liberal-democratic institutions. Yet, populists and non-populists differ in the degree to which they hold inconsistent beliefs. Citizens with populist outlook more frequently express contradictory demands that political institutions cannot possibly deliver. Based on these findings, we conclude that most populist citizens do not pursue an elaborate anti-democratic conception of governing. Rather, the widespread dissatisfaction among populists may create an indeterminate openness for institutional change that political elites could steer in different directions.