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By José Santana Pereira

Populist attitudes refer to a general belief that representative democracy processes do not take into account the needs and desires of the people, because the elite who controls political institutions is either corrupt, alienated or incompetent, and that something must be done in order to place the ‘pure’ people again at the centre of the political process. The concept of populist attitudes stems from the subfield of research on populism that looks at this phenomenon as constituting a superficial ideology. In more precise terms, this ideational approach defines populism as a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic sides (the pure people and the evil elite), and that politics should be the expression of the volonte générale (general will) of the people. By looking at it as a (thin-centered) ideology, we can observe and analyze populism both in the political supply side (parties and political elites at large) and in the demand side – the citizenry. Indeed, most research on populist attitudes has focused on operationalizing and measuring the three components of the definition presented above: people-centrism, anti-elitism and a claim for popular sovereignty. Other studies go further, by looking at additional subsets of attitudes related with specific subtypes of populism, namely exclusionism (considering that not all people are part of the «true people», thus excluding ethnic or linguistic minorities and/or immigrants and refugees) or anti-pluralism (the belief that there is only one way of being a member of «the people», which justifies discriminating attitudes towards specific minoritarian options and behaviors). Research on populist attitudes has mapped its prevalence within the citizenry (often showing that agreement with populist stances is widespread), the factors explaining higher or lower odds of expressing populist attitudes (finding that the key factors often vary from country to country) and their impact in terms of political participation and voting behavior.

Related References

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Cite this entry as:

Pereira, José Santana. 2022. ‘Populist Attitudes’. In Populisms and Emotions Glossary, edited by Cristiano Gianolla and Maíra Magalhães Lopes. Available atário