The Populist Revolt

MPIfG Scholar in Residence Lectures 2019 given by Armin Schäfer in Cologne

Many rich democracies have been experiencing a rising tide of populism. Most explanations of populist success focus on economic or cultural reasons. Globalization, as proponents of the former perspective argue, threatens those with lower skill levels because either their jobs can be done elsewhere or cheaper workers (or robots) will be available to do the same task for less (or no) money. Therefore, "globalization losers" turn towards populist parties to protest against (future) welfare losses. In contrast, the cultural explanation argues that value change is the driver of populism. As societies increasingly adopt postmaterial and multicultural values, those who cling to more traditional worldviews feel marginalized and excluded. These "modernization losers" turn to populist parties as they seek to preserve or restore a society that putatively existed in the past. Despite their differences, both of these explanations understand social change as an almost inevitable, automatic process. Yet, governments could react in many different ways to globalization and value change — accelerating either of them is just one option. In contrast to these predominant explanations, this final lecture offers a third view that focuses on "representation losers" to explain the rise of populism. Those who feel poorly represented turn towards populist parties to voice their protest against political exclusion and unresponsive decisions.

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