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The concept of populism has been used to define many political and economic phenomena without precision. This paper presents an analytical synthesis that in our view helps to understand populism in a generalizable way. We define populism as a political strategy aimed to achieve power. Drawing inductively from historical case studies, secondary literature and multinational public opinion surveys, we identify three distinct conditions necessary for a populist episode to occur: a) a political entrepreneur, b) an opportunity structure, and c) favorable public appeal. We further elaborate on these three conditions in this paper. We then examine our model in respect to specific historical and prospective cases.


Populism can mean many things: far-left or right-wing messages, strong, personalized political leadership, populist movements or parties, populist policies or preferences, a term of abuse or of pride. Social theorist Ernesto Laclau wrote a seminal essay on populism in the 1970s, dubbing it a concept "both elusive and recurrent."1 Since then, most authors repeat this truism without continuing to read the ways Laclau tried to nail down such elusiveness and recurrence. For Laclau, the concept of populism can be broken down into three constituent elements: 1) populism as a political strategy2 in times of general social crises; 2) during such crises, the opposition to the established order effectively organizes itself around an appeal to "the people" against the elites; 3) [End Page 3] the opposition casts itself antagonistically against the elites, closing the avenues for accommodation with the established order.3 This is a good starting point.

However, often populism is cast as a simple two-dimensional concept where competing blocs vie for power in an antagonistic manner rather than through negotiation and accommodation. Put more succinctly, the conflict is between the established socioeconomic and political order on the one hand, and those members of society who consider such an order rigged against them on the other. The aggrieved may feel resentful or fearful of the status quo and want to "change the system." While helpful, such a concept can be applied to politics in general and introduces nothing unique. It explains everything and yet nothing.

Where do we go from here? As scholars and analysts of Latin American politics and of public opinion polling, we encounter the subject of populism frequently. The study of populism in these fields is abundant and continues to be updated and refined frequently. In the case of Latin America, this is no coincidence but rather the logical response to the relative frequency of so-called populist episodes since the 1930s. The region provides a rich test case given this frequency. Our research borrows from this vast knowledge base and employs tools from public opinion surveys and comparative historical studies that we have developed throughout our careers.4 Can these existing tools and historical context help explain the rise of populism in the context of today's political landscape? Can they help us understand why populist episodes are more prevalent in some regions of the world than in others?

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We understand populism to be a three-dimensional strategy that political entrepreneurs employ to achieve power. The three dimensions are distinct yet interrelated factors: (1) a political entrepreneur, (2) an opportunity structure, and (3) a public appeal. These necessary conditions, or factors, can be represented as a triangle and are required for a populist episode.

We define our terms:

  1. 1). The political entrepreneur: The voice and leadership behind which the anti-establishment forces rally.

  2. 2). The opportunity structure: A sense of insecurity of a given population typically corresponding to structural changes in society, such as economic downturns or changing ethnic composition of the population. Such structural changes often result in distinct belief systems that can be galvanizing.

  3. 3). The public appeal: A favorable predisposition in public opinion towards anti-establishment solutions and programs. Often, this is associated with a widespread belief that the "system is broken."

The collective action that results from the interaction of the populist political entrepreneur and his/her public appeal to the masses, given a favorable opportunity structure, tends toward anti-institutional measures. The aim of such measures is to change the current laws and other rules that structure political and economic life. The ends are, on one hand, to destroy the advantages that benefit the privileged (members of the so-called establishment) and, on the other, to implement short-term measures and new laws and rules that in theory will benefit the aggrieved, who have cast their lot behind the leadership of the populist entrepreneur. In the following subsections, we look in more detail at each of these three interdependent factors that, in our view, together create a political landscape ripe for a populist episode to occur.

Political Entrepreneur: Voice and Leadership

As emphasized above, the mere condition that many members of a given society feel frustrated or angry about their political and economic institutions will not necessarily ignite a populist episode in and of itself. Indeed, someone or something must stoke the flames of this resentment and, equally important, do so at the right time. Specifically, there must be a political entrepreneur who mobilizes and channels existing societal grievances.5

The strategies that such entrepreneurs employ can vary considerably by a number of factors, including structural, historical, and cultural context. Additionally, populist strategies can vary by the relative positions of such actors to power. We can think of such positions as life cycles to populist episodes: (1) out of power, (2) in power, and (3) recuperating power. Laclau did not spell this out, but we think it crucial to understanding populism. We define these positions in more detail below: [End Page 5]

  1. 1). Out of Power: A typical populist episode may start, as Laclau stated, with an opposition: the people organizing to conquer political power by ousting the incumbents (most peacefully in a legitimate election, less so in a coup or any other illegal usurpation of constituted authority), who are usually seen as the elite, the establishment, or the experts whose actions are self-serving and perceived as against the average citizen.

  2. 2). In Power: When populist leaders are successful in reaching the cusp of political power, they, like any other politician, would rather stay in power than step down. In this scenario, the group that was originally out is now in, and the elites/establishment, who were in, are now out.6 The elites now try to oust the populists from power. This is the basic conflict that repeats itself once populist episodes are triggered.7

  3. 3). Recuperating Power: Once in power, populist leaders can be ousted and try to return to power through mass mobilization (as was the case with Hugo Chávez in Venezuela after a short-lived coup which ended in his reinstatement in April 2002), although reinstatement is not guaranteed.

In most cases, the political entrepreneur frames the conflict between insiders and outsiders as an "us versus them" conflict. In the twenty-first century, this way of framing political conflict has been invigorated by the capacity to create, in Steger's view, global ideological communities of friends and foes—be they "market globalists," "justice globalists," or "jihadi globalists."8 The issue at heart is the capacity to agglomerate individuals around the planet behind a primeval cause, which in turn amplifies the number of followers.

But this should not come as a surprise for scholars and students of politics. Carl Schmitt famously posited that the main distinction in politics is between friends and enemies.9 Although in practice politics tend to unfold by making this distinction relative rather than absolute, the populist leader emphasizes this dichotomy in absolute us versus them terms. Examples include: the average man versus the elite, the moral versus the immoral, the native-born versus the immigrant, and so on. A political entrepreneur will employ some form of us versus them rhetoric to frame the conflict.

Opportunity Structure: Sense of Existential Insecurity

In terms of the opportunity structure, Laclau only refers to "general social crises."10 In our view, his diagnosis is too diffuse and imprecise. We find that there are four types of underlying conditions that lead to a sense of insecurity among a given population and thus strengthen populist appeal:

  1. a. Institutional opportunity structures: A mechanism for expressing public will.

  2. b. Economic opportunity structures: Economic downturns or economic crises, both acute and long-term.

  3. c. Cultural opportunity structures: The ideas, beliefs, norms, attitudes, and everyday practices of a given population.

  4. d. Existential opportunity structures: Real or perceived existential threats like wars, disasters, or terrorist events. [End Page 6]

Institutional Opportunity Structures

Institutional opportunity structures are reflected in different forms of formal and informal human interaction, including elections, public forums, petitions, referendums, public initiatives, and boycotts. Here, it is important to stress that populist episodes do not only result from crises. Indeed, they often arise organically as a simple function of the form of government or a favorable institutional setting for popular input. Put more directly, institutional opportunity structures allow the public will to be heard in a fashion that impacts the power dynamics of a given society.

In this context, let us understand the origin of institutional opportunity structures by looking to the Roman Republic from the second century BC until the collapse of its government under Augustus. The word closest to populism back then was populares. These were politicians competing for office such as the Gracchi brothers, Marius and, later, Julius Caesar. These politicians harangued the masses against the optimates (i.e., the elites who dominated the Senate). Classicist Mary Beard highlights the emergence and growth of demagogue politicians on the Council of Plebs, the leaders of which were popularly elected tribunes. This provided a check on the power of the rich and powerful represented in the Senate. A foundational example of tribunes who nurtured the objectives of the populares was Tiberius Gracchus, who in 133 BC had a radical plan to redistribute land to the poor. He tried to extend his one-year term, but was unsuccessful due to his untimely death. The example of Tiberius's younger brother, Gaius, provides an even stronger example of the populares' cause and style. While he managed to serve two consecutive terms (123–122 BC), he tried to empower the people against the Senate but ultimately suffered the same fate as his brother.11

Professor Beard recounts Plutarch's biography of Gaius, which contains a very graphic depiction of the birth of populism:

[Plutarch] singled out what must have been a flamboyant gesture by Gaius as he addressed his audiences in the Forum … Gaius flouted convention by strategically turning his back on the senate house when talking to the people, who now listened in the open piazza of the Forum [which] … made a revolutionary point. Not only did it allow the participation of a much larger crowd; it signaled the freedom of the people from the controlling eye of the senate.12

This passage vividly highlights a key factor or opportunity for the birth of populism: leaders speaking to and appealing directly to the people while physically turning their backs on the institutions and officials that represent the status quo. In the case of Rome, that status quo was the Senate. Crucially, the Roman Republic was not a democracy but an oligarchy.13 From there we must consider its diffusion to the areas that became the Western world (Europe and the United States) and other regions the West later conquered and dominated like Latin America, Africa, and parts of Asia.14 Our intuition tells us that all types of political regimes are susceptible to populism and populist [End Page 7] episodes. However, in our research we also test the possibility that some types of political regime are more likely to experience populist episodes than others. Given the fluctuation in types of government in Latin America (democratic and authoritarian; civilian and military; situations and institutionalized regimes) and the recent observation of the rise of populism in Europe and the United States, the question is extremely timely.

Relatedly, the classicist Paul Cartledge reminds us that the conflict between the Senate and the Council of Plebs grew in intensity. In the end, the Roman electorate was faced with two stark options between the self-styled optimate (best) and populare (people's) causes.15 Optimates vs. populares: this became the antagonistic relationship that went on to serve as a general blueprint for populism to take root in Rome and in many other societies since then.

As a salutary reminder, in the case of Rome, the populist conflicts continued to grow between the later part of the second century BC and the 30s–20s BC In the process, the Republic was overthrown and Rome became an imperial polity ruled autocratically by an emperor.

Cartledge reminds readers that it was not Greek but rather, "Roman law and customs and Roman political conceptions that set the tone for all civic and political life in Europe until the late eighteenth century and even beyond. [Since Polybius this system has been] understood rather in terms of a 'seesaw' or checks and balances model [and this] is certainly how it was taken by the American Founding Fathers when drawing inspiration for their own constitution."16 In addition, since the Americas were conquered and colonized by Europeans starting in the sixteenth century, they inherited the Roman tradition either directly or indirectly. The route was more direct in countries colonized by Spain, Portugal, and France, since these continental European countries followed Roman law and custom. The indirect route, as spelled out by Cartledge, was more apparent in the English-speaking colonies through the explicit emulation of the Roman Republic system by the founding fathers.

Economic Opportunity Structures

The modern appearance of the term "populism" was intimately connected with the confrontation of class interests anchored by economic interests: an alliance between farmers and labor in the Midwest and South of the United States, which created the short-lived People's Party, and explicitly pitted the losing majority—farmers and workers—against a small clique of industrial monopolists and financiers in Wall Street.17

Notable past populist episodes have been associated with big financial and economic crises, which hurt the poor and the middle classes during a prolonged period. Some of the best examples come from the so-called interwar [End Page 8] years (1920s and 1930s) throughout Europe and Latin America.18 Both the First World War and later the Great Depression created great social and economic dislocations, some of which ended up fueling the rise of populist movements which first won power and then plunged the world into a second global conflagration.19 A more recent episode of dramatic socioeconomic dislocation is the so-called Great Recession (2008–2009). Contemporary analyses on the resurgence of populism in the United States and in European countries highlight the global financial meltdown of 2008–2009 and the anemic, unbalanced economic recuperation as a proximate cause of the resurgence of populism.20 Some of these seismic political events include the decision of the British electorate to leave the European Union (Brexit) in June 2016, Donald J. Trump's victory in the November 2016 US Presidential election, and the fall of the Italian Prime Minister, Matteo Renzi, in a December 2016 referendum to strengthen executive power. The climate is still ripe for other surprises in coming elections and referendums. In both 2017 national elections in the Netherlands and France, the populist candidates, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen, lost their contests but carried with them significant proportions of voters. Thus, even though some journalists and analysts have declared the end of current populist victories, we believe that as long as the constituent elements of the opportunity structure remain in place (i.e., institutions that prescribe the regular expression of the popular will, stagnant or deteriorating economic conditions for a majority or significant minority of voters, and established belief systems and ways of life that feel threatened by immigration and globalization) it is just a matter of time before other populist political entrepreneurs are successful in gaining power.

What makes the economic explanation powerful is that the global financial collapse of 2008–2009 and its long, deep consequences had as their epicenter the cockpit of advanced financial capitalism: namely, the United States and Western Europe. Large proportions of these countries' populations have not experienced recovery since 2008, and some are still experiencing economic decline. Likewise, there is no end in sight for the debt crisis that has pushed the Eurozone underwater for a record six years. We agree with the general perspective that the rise of populism in the United States and in Western Europe in the 2010s is intimately linked with the social consequences of the global financial meltdown that produced the Great Recession.

Cultural Opportunity Structures

It is a truism that the early twenty-first century is characterized by globalization, automation, information, and migration. For many, the world has become a more diverse and dangerous place. Easier modes of travel, economic demand in richer countries coupled with surplus supply in less developed countries, conflicts such as civil wars, foreign invasions, and organized crime that threaten individuals' basic physical security, and the spread of communications technology, [End Page 9] including the Internet and social media, all have made migration and staying in touch easier than ever before. The overall result of such structural changes in the way people operate in today's world has been a sense of loss of security, identity, and traditional ways of life for many of the populations exposed to these changes.

Thus, socioeconomic groups who perceive their countries as net recipients of migrants—like many among the populations of the United States and countries in the European Union—feel threatened to different degrees by their arrival. There is anxiety as to the extent to which these migrants will assimilate or will instead continue to be different (in terms of language, religious faith, norms, and everyday practices). The anxiety extends to issues of general security and well being of the host population. The population fears that terrorists will infiltrate migrant populations and carry out acts of human carnage as seen recently in many leading European cities like Paris, London, Stockholm, Berlin, and Manchester. There is also anxiety of competition over scarce jobs between locals and migrants as well as the public welfare cost of providing a base of sustenance for migrants and their families to start a new life in a strange land.

All these beliefs have bred a growing perception of insecurity in, paradoxically, the most maturely capitalist, relatively prosperous, and highly educated societies in the world.21 Political entrepreneurs have been quick to use nativist feelings, racist rhetoric, religious intolerance, and economic worry to stir such anxiety and fears.

Existential Opportunity Structures

Fear of death and bodily harm can be a galvanizing force behind both short and long-term populist episodes. A lever recurrently pressed by leaders in the United States and Europe has been the fear of Islam—if not the fear of religion itself certainly for what Steger dubbed "jihadist globalism." Issues stoked by populist leaders have raised the profile of Islamophobia, as its appeals connect with a portion of the citizenry that feels insecure about its position in society. In the process, they feed into feelings that strengthen nativism, homeland and national security, hate crime, and anti-immigrant rhetoric and action. Interestingly, basic bibliographic searches also yield literature devoted to populism within the perceived home of jihadi globalists—the Middle East.22

Additionally, political leaders in general have benefited from real existential threats. For example, George W. Bush gained more than 35 points in the polls following the attacks on September 11, 2001.23 This popularity, and more importantly his ability to take advantage of this opportunity structure, propelled him through two full terms.

Another example of cultural opportunity structure is the recent impact of nativist sentiments on politics. Issues of natives versus foreign-born have been [End Page 10] key in defining electoral outcomes in the US with Trump, the UK with Brexit, Hungary with Viktor Orban, and bids by Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders in France and Holland, among others. In this light, the key explanatory variable of Trump's success was the nativist rhetoric he used, which resonated with a broad nativist base.

The end result of the several factors that make up the opportunity structure can be summarized in terms of the extent to which the average individual in a given society feels that basic security (physical, socioeconomic, political) is on strong footing. In particular, as the triangle figure shows, we expect perceived levels of (in)security to provide feedback and impetus to both leadership/voice/agency and also to incentivize the use and manipulation of information (the backbone of potential growth of public appeal that can translate into populist collective action).

Public Appeal: Underlying Public Favorability Towards Extra-Institutional Measures

Now onto the third factor that conditions populist episodes: public appeal. Here, we define it as the general public's support for extra-institutional measures in fixing a real or perceived "broken system." The belief can long be latent, only manifesting itself during key moments.

In Latin America, this underlying belief system has traditionally been exploited to garner support from such populist leaders as Chávez, Perón, Fujimori, Vargas, Morales, and Lula. Practically speaking, we have operationalized public appeal in the chart below, called the "Caudillo Syndrome"—a traditional, well-established way of strongman politics in the history of Latin America.

The logic of the Caudillo Syndrome goes something like this: our country is rich, but there are so many poor people. Why is this? Because the rich steal! We need someone strong who understands the poor to help the poor, even if they have to break some rules.24

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Enter the political entrepreneur who promises short-term redress to long-term grievances by changing the system. This populist leader frames and exploits an opportunity structure rife with collective grievance and a sense of insecurity, tapping into public appeal for change (latent or already manifest). If successful, this strategy will culminate in collective action that enthrones the populist leader, who then tries to change the system by bending or changing the political and economic laws and rules in place.

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While highly stylized, the above chart is not meant to be comprehensive, as it represents a very Latin America-centric manifestation of populism. The main source of contention need not be wealth inequality or a populist episode fueled by an economic opportunity structure. As previously stated, populist episodes may occur in light of the "globalisms" that Steger identifies—issues of justice, of fear of otherness as in jihadism, or of international markets and the growing split between liberal, cosmopolitan elites and traditional, local, average individuals.

From where do the Caudillo Syndrome and related belief systems originate? Let us return to Laclau's analysis of the antagonistic nature of the relationship between the insiders and the outsiders. This means that they are irreconcilable and cannot reach agreement. Each side wants to prevail over the [End Page 12] other without impediments or compromising part of its agenda. Capitalizing on public appeal and establishing an energizing organization becomes an essential step for the political entrepreneur.25 We delve further into this below.

Liberal Democracy as a Breeder of Populism?

Antagonistic interaction is central to the dynamics of populism because it runs counter to the essence of what liberal democracy is: a political regime of majority rule constrained by individual rights, checks and balances, and the accountability of those in positions of public authority. Still, as long as basic political rights such as regular elections, voting, and the right to stand for election remain the bedrock of democratic political systems, the possibility of populist episodes will be an in-built feature of democracy as a system of rule and government.

In order to avoid the tyranny of the majority, a combination of majority rule and individual rights were created as a space and a process where contending groups can state their views, debate, and be open to bargaining and negotiation over their political, economic, and social preferences. In the terms set by game theory, the system is designed to produce positive-sum results more often than not. By contrast, once a populist leader has gained traction among growing groups in a society, the idea of engagement and negotiation with the other side is marginalized. Instead, calls for radical change or transformation of the system are recurrently advocated. In this case, the result is zerosum: the elites will lose what the populists gain once they take power. In turn, the elites might strengthen the antagonistic relationship, in this case against the populist leader and coalition in power, and will try to unseat them. The antagonistic relationship is thus reproduced anew. We can observe the resurgence and sometimes spread of populist episodes: e.g., in many Latin American countries in the 2000s, and in European countries and in the United States in the 2010s.

Populist Episode: Interaction Between the Political Entrepreneur and Public Appeal

Ultimately it is the political entrepreneur that feeds and gains traction from a willing public. Such mediation between a leader and the masses has been greatly facilitated by modern technology. Indeed, twenty-first century developments in mass communications, such as reality television and the main outlets that constitute social media via the Internet (Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook), have amplified the capacity of outsider political entrepreneurs to frame and disseminate their apparently straightforward, common-sense messages which are meant to offer simple solutions to complex problems. The rise of the strongman [End Page 13] or woman has therefore been nurtured and strengthened by global, real-time communications. Some recent examples include the rise of strongman presidents in Russia under Vladimir Putin or Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan.26 These case studies show the growth of personalized power at the expense of institutions thanks to the strongmen's direct connection with the masses via twenty-first century communications.

Lukacs makes what in our view is a critical distinction to explain how contemporary populism gains traction and grows. Liberalism correctly identified the "supreme power of popularity" as an inherent danger of democracy, which had to be tamed or restricted through individual rights and checks and balances on power.27 The phenomenon of popularity wins in democracy has led to a variety of deformations of the political process. A typical one that Lukacs mentions is the selection of electoral candidates according to their potential popularity rather than their merits. Another one is the proliferation of public opinion polls, the results of which can be "skewed, inflated, or manufactured for the purpose of affirming the popularity of a candidate by asserting his popularity."28 Likewise, our blind belief in progress can lead to a passive attitude when vote counting is aggregated by computers. The average voter tends not to question such electronic counting, when in fact there is ample room for exogenous meddling with the final tallies.29 The end result is that the public sees democracy as a contest of popularity, and the means used to gauge this attribute in the run-up to elections, plebiscites, referenda, and other mass voting exercises can distort, modify, or entirely change the outcome if such means of aggregation of popularity had not been in place or had operated differently. The furor over the extent to which Russian hackers intervened in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on the side of Donald Trump and against Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party is a textbook case about the use and manipulation of information for mass consumption with clear political ends in mind.

Summary, Questions, and Some Findings

So how does all of this apply in practice? First, we must understand that each of the three conditions detailed above is independent of the other, but all must be present for a populist episode to occur. Most importantly, how they interact will determine the emergent flavor of the episode.

Taking a poll conducted in 2016 by Ipsos in twenty-six countries, we operationalize our framework in practice (see graph above). Specifically, we plot "nativism" as a proxy for opportunity structure against "system is broken" as a proxy for public appeal. Here we do not fix or fully specify the political entrepreneur.

Our results find that countries cluster around potential populist episode types. For example, the further up and to the right hand side of the axis (first quadrant—countries inside the green elipse), the higher the probability of populist political entrepreneurs taking advantage of the widespread belief that the system is broken because of immigrants and foreign-born. Case in point is France pitting two anti-establishment candidates against each other: Le Pen [End Page 14]

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more nativist and Macron less so. Likewise, countries in the upper left hand side (second quadrant—countries inside the blue elipse) are susceptible to the siren song of the populist political entrepreneur, but their location in the axis suggests that they will gain public appeal by stressing the elite/populace cleaveage, or the pure-play "system is broken" tune. This is the traditional Latin American flavor of populism. In turn, some of the English-speaking countries cluster close to the center of the axis. While less likely to be receptive to to system is broken messages, they are more nativist in orientation and much more so than the countries in the lower left-hand side (third quadrant—no elipse engulfs them). These countries, such as Japan and Sweden, and to a lesser extent Germany and Canada, seem to be the least likely to succumb to populist episodes.

Of course, this is only a snapshot from 2016, so no trends or general conclusions can be made. Still, this polling exercise does seem to have borne out some predictions. Let us take, for example, the recent US election. Specifically, both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders can be considered political entrepreneurs espousing an "us versus them" rhetoric to rally base support, but pulling from different opportunity structures, and thus engendering different flavors of populism. Trump's rhetoric strongly catered to concerns around immigration, whereas Sanders highlighted wealth inequality as the center of the "us versus them" dichotomy. Both candidates gained [End Page 15] support among their bases by employing a populist strategy. Trump ultimately came out on top, building public appeal by successfully playing antagonistic relationships off each other.

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Ultimately our analytical framework will be borne out empirically. We believe that it provides sufficient breadth to be applied across context, but avoids the "everything-and-yet-nothing" conundrum that the study of populism has suffered for the last half-century. Indeed, the contingent nature of our framework suggests that populist episodes—while always possible—are rare. This claim must of course stand up to empirical scrutiny, but what better place to start?

Francisco E. González

Francisco E. González is the Riordan Roett Associate Professor of Latin American Studies at Johns Hopkins SAIS. His work focuses on the political economy of Latin America; transitions to democracy and open economies; populism; global and regional energy issues; and the growing role of Hispanics in American politics. He is the author of the books Dual Transitions from Authoritarian Rule (2008) and Creative Destruction? Economic Crises and Democracy in Latin America (2012), both published by Johns Hopkins University Press.

Clifford Young

Cliff Young is the President of Ipsos Public Affairs in the United States. He also leads the Ipsos global election and political polling risk practice. His research specialties include social and public opinion trends, crisis management, corporate and institution reputation, and election polling. Cliff is considered an expert on polling in emerging markets, as well as polling in adverse and hostile conditions, and has polled on over 100 elections around the world. Cliff earned his BA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received both his MA and PhD from the University of Chicago. Cliff is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins SAIS and an instructor at both Columbia University SIPA and University of São Paulo, where he teaches courses on public opinion and election forecasting.


1. Ernesto Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism (London: New Left Books, 1977), Chapter 4.

2. More recent, influential contributions to the literature also see populism as "a political strategy." See Kurt Weyland, "Clarifying a Contested Concept: Populism in the Study of Latin American Politics," Comparative Politics 34, no. 1 (2001): 1–22.

3. Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory, 174–175.

4. Dr. Clifford Young developed an earlier version of the triangular components that raise the likelihood of populist episodes. He tested them empirically in the "Caudillo battery" of an Ipsos Populist Survey 2005.

5. The issue of leadership/voice/agency is necessary though not sufficient to raise the likelihood of populist episodes. A multidisciplinary search, which encompasses analytical, quantitative, and qualitative-historical works that highlight the importance of "leadership and voice" (i.e. the voice that speaks on behalf of the majority) can be found in Jan Werner-Müller, What is Populism? (University Park: Penn State University Press, 2016); Robert R. Barr, "Populists, Outsiders and Anti-establishment Politics," Party Politics 15, no. 1 (2009): 29–48; Takis S. Pappas, "Political leadership and the emergence of radical mass movements in democracy," Comparative Political Studies 41, no. 8 (2008): 1117–1140; J.P. Zúquete, "The Missionary Politics of Hugo Chávez," Latin American Politics and Society 50 (2008): 91–121. [End Page 16]

6. "Populists'' at least in Latin America have typically engaged in expansionary and usually unsustainable fiscal and monetary policies (see Rudiger Dornbusch and Sebastian Edwards, eds., The Macroeconomics of Populism in Latin America [Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991]). However, an expansionary macroeconomic policy is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition to define populists in office. At times, austerity or xenophobia or national security concerns become dominant in the populist creed. The point at which to define it a populist episode is when the incumbent proposes and implements his/her program antagonistically (i.e., against written and unwritten rules (laws), norms, behavior standards and engagement with the opposition, rather than allowing room for negotiation and accommodation with the opposition).

7. More recently, leading game theorist economists have continued to follow the Dornbusch and Edwards perspective to model populism conceived in terms of type of economic policy adopted—more leftwing equals progressive or populist and more rightwing equals orthodox or conservative. See Daron Acemoglu, Georgy Egorov, and Konstantin Sonin, A Political Theory of Populism, No. w17306, National Bureau of Economic Research, 2011.

8. Manfred B. Steger, The Rise of the Global Imaginary: Political Ideologies from the French Revolution to the Global War on Terror (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

9. Carl Schmitt, The Concept of the Political (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

10. Laclau, Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory, 174.

11. Using Rome as the key reference point for our "political" understanding of populism is in tune with the influential, current scholarly work of, for example, Jan Werner-Müller, What is Populism? A reviewer of this work who has top economic policy management experience in Chile highlights Werner-Müller's view that populism is a "permanent shadow" on representative democracy. Populism is not about taxation (or jobs or income inequality). It is about representation—who gets to speak for the people and how. See Andrés Velasco, "The Anti-Democratic Heart of Populism," Project Syndicate, October 27, 2016,

12. Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (London: Profile Books, 2015), 230–231.

13. Jeffrey A. Winters, Oligarchy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 90–121.

14. A bibliographic search on African populism yielded works such as Steve Hess and Richard Aidoo, "Charting the Roots of Anti-Chinese Populism in Africa: A Comparison of Zambia and Ghana," Journal of Asian and African Studies (2013); Nic Cheeseman and Miles Larmer, "Ethnopopulism in Africa: Opposition Mobilization in Diverse and Unequal Societies," Democratization 22, no. 1 (2015): 22–50; Louise Vincent, "Seducing the People: Populism and the Challenge to Democracy in South Africa," Journal Of Contemporary African Studies 29, no. 1 (January 2011): 1–14; Crawford Young, Ideology and Development in Africa (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982); A bibliographic search on populism in Asia yielded: Kihore Mahbubani, "Why Asia Doesn't Have a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders," New Perspectives Quarterly 33, no. 2 (2016): 26–28; Marcus Mietzner, "Reinventing Asian Populism: Jokowi's Rise, Democracy, and Political Contestation in Indonesia," Policy Studies 15471349, no. 72 (January 2015): 1–76; Duncan McCargo, "Duterte's Mediated Populism," Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal Of International & Strategic Affairs 38, no. 2 (August 2016): 185–190; Andrew Wyatt, "Populism and Politics in Contemporary Tamil Nadu," Contemporary South Asia 21, no. 4 (December 2013): 365.

15. Paul Cartledge, Democracy: A Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 262.

16. Ibid., 248; 255.

17. Michael Kazin, The Populist Persuasion: An American History (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995), Chapters 1 and 2.

18. An explicit comparison of contemporary Europe and Latin America is Carl Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser, "Exclusionary vs. Inclusionary Populism: Comparing Contemporary Europe and Latin America," Government and Opposition 48, no. 2 (2013): 147–174; also, Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell, eds., Twenty-First Century Populism (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Erik Jones, "Populism in Europe," SAIS Review of International Affairs 27, no. 1 (2007): 37–47.

19. Giovanni Capoccia, Defending Democracy: Reactions to Extremism in Interwar Europe (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005).

20. John Judis, The Populist Explosion: How the Great Recession Transformed American and European Politics (New York: Columbia Global Reports, 2016). [End Page 17]

21. Jens Rydgren, ed., Movements of Exclusion: Radical Right-Wing Populism in the Western World (New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2005).

22. Vedi R. Hadiz, "A New Islamic Populism and the Contradictions of Development," Journal Of Contemporary Asia 44, no. 1 (January 2, 2014): 125–143; Umut Bozkurt, "Neoliberalism with a Human Face: Making Sense of the Justice and Development Party's Neoliberal Populism in Turkey," Science & Society 77, no. 3 (July 2013): 372–396; Vedran Obućina, "Social Populism and the Future of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Politicka Misao: Croatian Political Science Review 52, no. 4/5 (December 2015): 163–186; Imad Salamey and Frederic Pearson. "Hezbollah: A Proletarian Party with an Islamic Manifesto—a Sociopolitical Analysis of Islamist Populism in Lebanon and the Middle East," Small Wars & Insurgencies 18, no. 3 (2007): 416–438.

23. David W. Moore, "Bush Job Approval Highest in Gallup History," Gallup, September 24, 2001,

24. The name "Caudillo Syndrome" came from a battery of questions Dr. Clifford Young developed for an Ipsos poll conducted in 2005 in light of the resurgence of populism in Latin America in the early 2000s. The Ipsos survey captured the populist sentiment, which was effectively channeled politically by Presidents Hugo Chávez (Venezuela), Ignacio 'Lula' da Silva (Brazil), Néstor Kirchner (Argentina), and Tabaré Vázquez (Uruguay) before presidential elections of populist strongmen/women triumphed in Bolivia (Evo Morales), Ecuador (Rafael Correa), Argentina (Cristina Fernández), Paraguay (Fernando Lugo), and in Central America (Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua).

25. Robert S. Jansen, "Populist Mobilization: A New Theoretical Approach to Populism," Sociological Theory 29, no. 2 (2011): 75–96.

26. Philipp Casula, "Sovereign Democracy, Populism and Depoliticization in Russia," Problems of Communism 60, no. 3 (May 2013): 3; See the upcoming book by Soner Cagaptay, The New Sultan: Erdogan and the Crisis of Modern Turkey (London: I.B. Tauris, 2017).

27. John Lukacs, Democracy and Populism: Fear and Hatred (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2005), 182.

28. Ibid., 183–4.

29. Ibid. [End Page 18]

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