The Cultural Origins of Populism
42 Pages Posted: 6 Jan 2022 Last revised: 17 Mar 2022
Date Written: January 5, 2022
The electoral success of right-wing populist parties is often attributed to disaffection among certain voters. But while economic explanations for this disaﬀection are theoretically clear and quantiﬁable, explanations centered on cultural factors oﬀer vaguer accounts that are harder to evaluate empirically. We address this problem by theoretically distinguishing between ﬁve different “storylines” about the cultural origins of populism, and then test them using extensive data from Europe and the United States. Our analysis indicates that concerns about ethno-cultural change induced by immigration are central to understanding the populist vote; so, but to a lesser extent, is rural resentment and status anxiety. In contrast, explanations centered on communal disintegration or an intergenerational values divide are pertinent in only specific cases. The analysis helps disentangle the cultural forces associated with the rise of populism and highlights the heterogeneous coalitions that form the populist base across different countries.
Keywords: Right-wing populism, Cultural explanations, Voting behavior
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