How Citizens´Populist Attidudes Depend on their Perceptions of Elite Positions

08.05.2023 - 12:00 to 13:30
Location : 
A 5,6 Raum A 231
Type of Event : 
AB B-Kolloquium
Robert A. Johns
Lecturer affiliation: 
University of Essex

Left-right and liberal-authoritarian attitudes are widely thought to be central and stable features of someone's belief system. The status of populist attitudes is rather less clear. While 'thin-centred' may be useful for describing populist leaders' evasive approach to ideology, it is less useful for understanding the nature and stability of populist attitudes at the mass public level. In this paper, defining these attitudes as positions along a 'who should govern?' spectrum from citizens to elites, I derive the simple hypothesis that a citizen's populist attitudes should depend on the perceived ideological distance between herself and elites -- that is, the parties and politicians in parliament. I then test this hypothesis using a combination of observational and experimental survey data from both Britain and Italy, two countries 'pre-treated' by populism but in institutionally very different ways. The observational analysis correlates populist attitudes (Schulz et al., 2017) with various measures of what the respondent sees as the centre of gravity of the party system. In the survey experiment, respondents are assigned to differing characterisations of opinion among members of parliament (on both the economic left-right and liberal-authoritarian spectrums) and I record the impact on populist attitudes. Overall, the results tend to question populism’s status as an ‘ism’, suggesting instead a much more contingent outlook -- especially on the economic dimension. However, they also show the potential for events, notably Brexit, to entrench populist attitudes.