Political Representation Gaps and Populism

77 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2022 Last revised: 16 May 2024

Date Written: May 16, 2024


Research on the rise of populism has largely neglected the explanation populists themselves provide: they allegedly fill "political representation gaps" ---differences between the policymaking by established parties and the "popular will." I study whether representation gaps exist and their relationship with populism. To this end, I analyze the responses of citizens and parliamentarians from 27 European countries to identical survey policy questions, which I compile and verify to be indicative of voting in referendums. I find that policymaking represents the economic attitudes of citizens well. However, nearly all established parties are more culturally liberal than the mean voter. For instance, the decisions of the average parliamentarian are nearly one standard deviation more liberal than the mean voter prefers. The largest gaps arise on topics related to immigration. I then show that these representation gaps are associated with political dissatisfaction and that right-wing populists fill cultural representation gaps. In turn, citizens who are less well represented are especially likely to vote for right-wing populists and cultural representation gaps predict their electoral success. Moreover, the recent rise of populism coincided with an increase in representation gaps, driven by an increase in the perceived importance of immigration.

Keywords: Representation, Populism, Political Trust, Democracy, Voting, Moral Universalism

JEL Classification: D72, D78, N44, P16

Suggested Citation

Günther, Laurenz, Political Representation Gaps and Populism (May 16, 2024). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4230288 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4230288

Laurenz Günther (Contact Author)

University of Bonn ( email )


HOME PAGE: http://laurenzguenther.eu

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