Populism and Party Politics

September 9, 2016 – Volume 26, Issue 31
Is the populist movement good for democracy? By Chuck McCutcheon


Supporters of Bernie Sanders demonstrate (Getty Images/Jeff J. Mitchell)
Supporters of Bernie Sanders demonstrate at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia on July 27, 2016. The Vermont senator waged what often has been described as a left-wing populist challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. (Getty Images/Jeff J. Mitchell)

Populism — the deep public mistrust of political parties and other so-called “establishment” institutions — is disrupting traditional politics in the United States as well as abroad. Analysts and academics say Donald Trump demonstrated populism's reach by winning the Republican presidential nomination, while Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders waged what often was described as a left-wing populist challenge to Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. Populist movements have spread across Europe with the rise of anti-establishment politicians in several countries, underscored by the United Kingdom's June “Brexit” vote to leave the 28-nation European Union. But the meaning of populism has become elastic, as it is applied to a wide range of politicians and movements. Today's populists are amplifying many of the movement's earlier traditions through heavy use of Twitter, Facebook and other social media to launch venomous “us-versus-them” attacks on opponents. The new-media warfare has led some experts to wonder if populism is compatible with what they think should be a sober and deliberative political process.

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New Yorker Karen Bruno liked what she heard from Donald Trump. So the self-described evangelical Christian showed up at the Republican presidential candidate's Trump Plaza headquarters to volunteer for his campaign.

“The more he riles up the establishment, the better I like it,” Bruno told a TV station. “I think the establishment is in cahoots to bring this country down…. I don't know what they're doing.”1

Bruno's comments reflect what the media and academic researchers describe as populism, in which citizens rise up in frustration and anger against what they see as an entrenched “establishment” of “elites” in government, industry and other institutions that ignores their concerns.

John Baick, a professor of history at Western New England University in Springfield, Mass., defines populism as “a large group of people united in the suspicion that someone, some group — ‘elites’ is their shorthand — is controlling things to their detriment.” Bart Bonikowski, a professor of sociology at Harvard University, says populists “invariably portray the people as the rightful sources of power” and often favor the use of “direct democracy,” such as ballot initiatives that let voters bypass legislators to making laws.

Political analysts and academics say Trump demonstrated the reach of populism by defeating more than a dozen more experienced rivals to win the GOP nomination, revealing deep-seated voter disgust with traditional politicians. Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders tapped into similar voter anger on the left in his unsuccessful battle with Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. So-called populist movements also have spread across Europe with the rise of anti-establishment politicians in several countries and the United Kingdom's “Brexit” vote in June to leave the 28-nation European Union.2

Donald Trump, campaigning in Macon, Ga. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Curtis Compton)
Donald Trump, campaigning in Macon, Ga., last Nov. 25, demonstrated the reach of populist disgust with traditional politicians, some analysts say, by defeating more than a dozen more experienced rivals to win the GOP presidential nomination. Populist movements also have spread across Europe with the rise of anti-establishment politicians in several countries, punctuated by the United Kingdom's “Brexit” vote in June to leave the European Union. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Curtis Compton)

But the meaning of populism has become increasingly elastic. It has been invoked to describe politicians who seek to unite disparate groups as well as those who pit one group against another. And it is applied as a catchall in various contexts beyond politics, including business (the ride-hailing service Uber) and music (country artists and rock groups such as Pearl Jam that want promoters to lower ticket prices for the groups' concerts).3

Populism today also characterizes almost any impassioned grassroots movement, ranging from the limited-government, anti-tax tea party that rose up against President Barack Obama to the left-wing Occupy Wall Street groups challenging the financial industry to the Black Lives Matter protests of police shootings of African-Americans.4

“It is broadly used in scholarly, media and public affairs circles despite the fact that it has no widely accepted theoretical meaning,” said Diego von Vacano, a professor of political science at Texas A&M University.5

In the United States, populism has existed in various forms for two centuries. Today's populism, experts say, differs from earlier versions in how politicians such as Trump and Sanders have amplified some of its traditions — particularly appealing to a sense of “us against them” — by relying heavily on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media and using combative rhetoric that has drawn extensive coverage from traditional news media. As a result, they have not needed to rely on political parties or large corporate campaign contributions to pay for advertising.

“Media can no longer be treated as a side issue when it comes to understanding contemporary populism,” Benjamin Moffitt, a research fellow in political science at Sweden's University of Stockholm, said in his new book, The Global Rise of Populism. “Media touches upon almost all aspects of modern life … [and] populism is particularly attuned to the contours of the contemporary mediatized landscape.”6

The pervasiveness of social media “has changed populism as it has changed social movements in general,” agrees Nancy Wadsworth, a University of Denver professor of political science. “It's provided a whole new set of resources for connectivity that are way more accessible than they used to be.”

The populist-driven antagonism and hostility pervading social and news media are coarsening American culture, many experts say. Populist leaders often play on people's fear and anger by demonizing their opponents and creating and perpetuating a sense of crisis, they say.7 Wadsworth calls this “toxic populism.”

“Populism is more an emotion than it is an ideology. And that emotion is anger,” said Michael Kimmel, a professor of sociology at New York's Stony Brook University and author of Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. 8

But populism also can take a less-noxious form as a purely political style. So-called establishment politicians often make populist-sounding remarks to broaden their appeal. In 2000, Democratic Vice President Al Gore campaigned for the presidency by declaring of Republicans, “They're for the powerful; we're for the people.”9

Similarly, Clinton, who has drawn criticism on the left for accepting large campaign donations from Wall Street and other corporations, has lambasted “special interests” that prevent citizens from making bigger financial gains. “The economy is rigged in favor of those at the top,” she said.10 The media also have applied the “populist” label to Clinton for her promises to tax multimillionaires and U.S. companies that attempt to relocate overseas.11

And some establishment Republicans who ran against Trump, including former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also castigated lobbyists and others in ways the media characterized as populist.12

Political scientists say populism often flourishes when wealth is concentrated at the top of society, as it is today.13 Previous populist movements forced a realignment of political parties, with major shifts of voters from one party to the other. Some experts say that already has occurred: Most socially conservative Democrats already have switched to the Republican Party, while few socially liberal, well-off Republicans are left to move to the Democratic camp.

“The party coalitions are pretty well defined,” said Michael Lind, a co-founder of New America, a center-left think tank in Washington. “The civil wars within the parties [are] about defining the party platforms more than the party coalitions.”14

The left- and right-wing versions of American populism have different orientations. Left-leaning populists seek to check the power of banks and big business. To that end, about 800 activists representing several left-wing organizations held a “Populism2015” conference last year in Washington to discuss how their groups can coordinate through social media and other means to blunt the influence of corporations seeking to limit the reach of government.

“As progressives reclaiming the mantle of ‘populism,’ our alliance is tapping a deep American tradition,” said Isaiah J. Poole, one of the organizers, who is editor of OurFuture.org, a liberal website for the Campaign for America's Future. “We see the government as an instrument for the public good.”15

Populists on the political right, meanwhile, direct their frustration at the government, arguing it favors undeserving groups over ordinary Americans — often minorities or foreigners, but also, like populists on the left, lobbyists and big business. They also blame GOP leaders for failing to stop Obama from being elected and re-elected.

Manufacturing Jobs on Steep Decline

Trump shares similarities with past populist presidential candidates, say experts studying populism, including: Alabama Gov. George Wallace, an outspoken segregationist who ran as an independent in 1968; conservative political commentator Patrick Buchanan, who sought the GOP nomination in 1992 and 1996 (and waged a third-party candidacy in 2000) pledging to curb immigration and free trade; and business tycoon H. Ross Perot, who ran as an independent in 1992 calling for drastic cuts in Washington spending and lobbying.

Some of Trump's critics, such as Avik Roy, an aide to several former GOP presidential candidates, said Trump's success shows his supporters are driven by “white nationalism,” or deep resentment of other races and cultures.16 But Trump supporters themselves say they care more about his articulation of their anger at being left behind economically and socially than about inflammatory statements for which he has drawn criticism.

“I live in Trump's America, where working-class whites are dying from despair…. They're angry at Washington and Wall Street, at big corporations and big government,” said Michael Cooper Jr., a lawyer in North Wilkesboro, N.C., where manufacturing jobs have plummeted over the last two decades. “When you're earning $32,000 a year and haven't had a decent vacation in over a decade … you just want to win again, whoever the victim, whatever the price.”17

Not all observers consider Trump a populist, citing his proposed breaks for upper-income Americans.18 They also say he appears more interested in promoting himself than in representing a broad swath of voters.

“Trump is more anti-establishment than he is pro-people, as he is mainly pro-Trump,” said Cas Mudde, a University of Georgia professor of international affairs.19

On the other hand, Sanders' campaign is widely seen as within the traditions of left-wing populism. A self-described “democratic socialist,” the Vermont senator called for a political “revolution” aimed at ending what he described as both major political parties' unhealthy reliance on large campaign donors.

Sanders backer Zack Smith of New Hampshire cited Sanders' challenge to the banking industry to reduce consumer transaction fees on debit cards. “It's the average person's issues he brings up,” Smith said.20

Gun rights long have been a populist issue on the right, while recent mass shootings have helped to spur left-wing grassroots efforts to address gun control. Petition drives in California, Nevada, Maine and Washington state led to the placement of gun-control measures on November ballots.21

As politicians, academics and commentators debate populism and its role in the presidential election, here are some questions being debated:

Does populism undermine confidence in government?

Critics of populism say its reflexive mistrust of the Democratic and Republican parties erodes confidence in government institutions and the political process. They say populists reject the necessary checks and balances of government in favor of unquestioned executive power while also rejecting their opponents' legitimacy. “Anyone with a different view speaks for ‘special interests,’ i.e., the elite,” said the University of Georgia's Mudde.22

But supporters of populism counter that it has opened the political system to new people and ideas.

Americans have become less attached to the two major political parties in recent years, with the percentage of people identifying as independents rising, according to the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan polling and research institution in Washington.23 Meanwhile, the parties have grown more partisan: Pew found that “Republicans and Democrats now have more negative views of the opposing party than at any point in nearly a quarter century.”24

That situation, many political analysts say, has created an opening for widespread rejection of both parties. “Politics is polarized, and a full-throated, angry populism seems to be burning all of the oxygen in the 2016 race,” wrote William Daley, a former Obama chief of staff who is now on the board at the centrist think tank Third Way.25

Experts describe the tea party movement, a loose confederation of conservative groups calling for strict adherence to their interpretation of the Constitution, as a form of populism directed at challenging Obama.26 Historian Robert Kagan, an adviser to Republican and Democratic politicians, said Obama's critics sought to persuade voters during his presidency “that government, institutions, political traditions, party leadership and even parties themselves were things to be overthrown, evaded, ignored, insulted [and] laughed at.”27

Many observers across the political spectrum say Trump's fiery populist appeals to blue-collar whites pose risks for the Republican Party, which has been seeking to recruit more Latinos and other ethnic and minority groups as the country grows more diverse.28

However, some political observers say voters' disdain for the Democratic Party also has stoked populism. Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, said some Democrats saw Sanders' “far-left populism” as “a pirate ship” seeking to overtake and impose its views on the rest of the party.29

Some populists promote conspiracy theories that critics of populism say delegitimize non-populist politicians and institutions. Before he ran for president, Trump claimed Obama was born in Kenya and implied he is a Muslim, and recently he predicted that the fall election “is going to be rigged.”30 Meanwhile, supporters of Sanders accused Clinton's campaign of manipulating election results in several primaries.31

Americans' Confidence in Institutions Falls

In addition, critics of populism say it oversimplifies complicated issues, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a joint agreement among the United States, Mexico and Canada that was negotiated by President George H. W. Bush and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1993. Trump's and Sanders' arguments that NAFTA and similar pacts caused massive losses of American manufacturing jobs are too simplistic, the critics say. And eliminating those trade deals, NAFTA supporters say, would cause long-term economic harm without restoring good-paying blue-collar jobs. In fact, studies indicate that many of those jobs were lost due to modernization, automation and outsourcing to lower-wage countries both with and without free-trade agreements.32

“Populism appeals because it promises simple solutions to complex problems,” said a report by two economists at the New York City-based Council on Foreign Relations, a centrist think tank studying international issues.33

Outside the United States, some establishment politicians say populism's impatience with the political process is at odds with how democracy works.

“Building prosperity requires caution and patience. It requires time,” said Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Brazil's president from 1995 to 2003. “Populism is a shortcut that doesn't work.”34

Cardoso is a frequent critic of the Workers' Party, a leftist populist movement whose former president, former Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, and other leaders have become caught in widespread corruption scandals.35 Brazil's Senate voted in August to impeach and remove Rousseff from office.36

But others say populism can invigorate political engagement by inviting participation from people who otherwise shun politics. “It can make politics more accessible, comprehensible and popular,” the University of Stockholm's Moffitt said.37

Some Trump supporters say they admire his bluntness, in contrast to what they see from establishment politicians. “He talks like me,” said Rozilda Greene, a 65-year-old Floridian. “If I have the truth to tell, I tell it.”38

J. D. Vance, an investment executive in San Francisco and author of the new book Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir of growing up in Appalachia, said the white working-class voters who back Trump have forced better-off Americans to take their concerns more seriously. When he won Nevada's GOP primary in February, Trump cited his overwhelming popularity among those without college degrees and said, “I love the poorly educated.”39

“The two political parties have offered essentially nothing to these people for a few decades,” Vance said. “From the left, they get some smug condescension, an exasperation that the white working class votes against their economic interests because of social issues…. From the right, they've gotten the basic Republican policy platform of tax cuts, free trade, deregulation, and paeans to the noble businessman and economic growth.”40

Meanwhile, Sanders' candidacy stirred interest among younger voters who applauded his attacks on the party establishment. The 75 million Americans in their teens, 20s and early 30s, known as Millennials, are the country's single biggest generation, and both Democrats and Republicans are eager to gain their long-term support.41

Advocates of populism say heightened participation has nudged the parties toward reflecting the broader public's wishes. They point to Sanders' influence on Hillary Clinton on trade: Clinton had said in 2012 that the Trans-Pacific Partnership — an agreement fostering trade among the United States and 11 other countries bordering the Pacific Ocean — “sets the gold standard in trade agreements.” But after Sanders criticized the pact during the Democratic primaries, she came out against it.42

Sanders' policy director, Warren Gunnels, also cited the inclusion of some of the senator's priorities in the Democratic platforms adopted. The platform, a nonbinding outline of a party's agenda, included Sanders' calls to reform Wall Street and raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.43

Is globalization driving populism?

In seeking to explain populism's ascension, commentators have described it as a rebellion led by the economic losers of globalization — the push for free movement of goods, people and technology across international borders.

Since the end of World War II, many governments have sought to reduce or eliminate trade barriers. Globalization of trade intensified after 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization, which sets standards for international trade.

Proponents of globalization envisioned it as a solution to deep-seated poverty and unemployment in many developing countries.44 But the loosening of trade restrictions occurred just as revolutionary new technologies began to eliminate many jobs in developed economies, and the rise of the internet made other jobs exportable to lower-wage countries. As a result, some commentators argue, the drive to globalize free trade unintentionally delivered considerable wealth and power to a small elite while reducing the number of high-paying jobs available to lower-skilled workers.

“Most people don't understand what NAFTA did, or what the TPP is or how trade bills work,” says the University of Denver's Wadsworth. “But they are getting the sense that corporate power seems to have superseded political power nationally and globally. I think Sanders tried to provide a narrative that explains and articulates that” in his criticisms of the proposed Pacific trade pact.

In 1960, about one in four Americans worked in manufacturing; less than one in 10 do today. Since 2000, the United States has lost 5 million jobs in that sector, many to China.45 Trump won the GOP primaries in 89 of the 100 U.S. counties most affected by trade with China, according to The Wall Street Journal. 46

But despite Sanders' anti-free trade positions, fears about globalization do not appear to motivate left-leaning populists. A June poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, a think tank, found that 75 percent of Sanders' self-identified supporters agreed with the statement, “Globalization is mostly good for the United States.” That figure was just 1 percentage point below the share of Clinton's supporters expressing the same sentiment.47

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters (Getty Images/Jeff Swensen)
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton greets supporters in Cleveland on Aug. 17. Clinton has sounded populist notes in her campaign, lambasting “special interests” that prevent citizens from making bigger financial gains. The media have applied the populist label to Clinton for her promises to tax multimillionaires and U.S. companies that attempt to relocate overseas. (Getty Images/Jeff Swensen)

Others say populism is driven less by the economic consequences of globalization than by the racial and cultural anxieties stoked by immigration. Trump has vowed to build a wall on the border with Mexico and at least temporarily bar Muslim immigrants from entering the country. After the son of Afghan immigrants killed 49 people at the Orlando, Fla., nightclub Pulse in June, Trump expanded his proposed ban to include migrants from any region with “a proven history of terrorism” against the United States or its allies.48 Trump also has called for “extreme vetting” of would-be immigrants to determine if they reflect U.S. values.49

Meanwhile, some experts say the U.K. “Brexit” vote was a consequence of what many Britons see as excessive immigration. Legal annual immigration into that country is 10 times what it was in 1993, and pro-Brexit forces argued many of those immigrants have taken jobs from British natives.50

“Immigration is probably the number one issue driving the rise of political populism around the world, whether it's the Brexit vote … or the rise of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee,” wrote Greg Ip, The Wall Street Journal's chief economics correspondent. “The backlash against immigration is less about jobs and wages — it's more about a sense of national identity and control over national borders,”51

Jonathan Rothwell, a researcher for the Gallup polling organization, studied the demographics of Trump's support and found cultural mistrust of other races and ethnicities to be the biggest factor, saying those viewing Trump most favorably are “disproportionately living in racially and culturally isolated ZIP codes … with little exposure to blacks, Asians and Hispanics.”52

Likewise, populism's appeal in Europe appears to stem more from cultural factors than economic ones, according to a new study by Harvard and University of Michigan researchers. In addition to Brexit, they cited hostile anti-immigrant rhetoric and anxiety over recent terrorist attacks. Populism's spread in Europe, they said, “is largely due to ideological appeals to traditional values, which are concentrated among the older generation, men, the religious, ethnic majorities, and less-educated sectors of society.”53

Daniel Gros, director of the Centre for European Policy Studies, a think tank in Brussels, Belgium, examined education and employment statistics in Europe and found that people with a college degree are more likely to get jobs and earn more than those without one. But, he said, the number of jobs requiring high levels of education has not grown in Europe in recent years, nor has the difference in unemployment rates between the highly educated and the less educated.

“But if these factors account for the rise of populism, they must have somehow intensified in the last few years, with low-skill workers' circumstances and prospects deteriorating faster vis-à-vis their high-skill counterparts,” he said. “And that simply is not the case, especially in Europe.”54

Is U.S. populism identical to Europe's?

The rise of populist movements in the United States and Europe has led many scholars, commentators and journalists to connect the two. They say populist leaders in both places have capitalized on deepening mistrust of politicians and parties.

Americans and Europeans “are more dissatisfied with mainstream politicians and parties than they have been in living memory,” said Duncan McDonnell, a professor of government and international relations at Australia's Griffith University and co-author of the 2015 book Populists in Power. “People go looking for other alternatives, and the one thing about populists is that they still promise people that voting can actually change something — that democracy can be saved somehow.”55

Analysts say that attitude particularly appeals to voters on the political right, who are more skeptical of government than Democrats and who see themselves losing influence.

Constanze Stelzenmüller, a senior fellow on foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a centrist think tank in Washington, cited several recent U.S. books and articles “about the fraying economic and social conditions which offer a potent explanation for the current dark mood of much of the American electorate. Yet ‘Europe’ could be substituted for ‘America’ in many of these studies with equal plausibility.”56

The result, Stelzenmüller and others say, is the tendency among right-wing populists such as the Netherland's Geert Wilders, Austria's Norbert Hofer and France's Marine Le Pen to make claims similar to Trump's that increased immigration is a leading cause of their country's problems, especially crime and terrorism. Although those populists say recent terrorist attacks in Europe reinforce their concerns, critics accuse them of xenophobia, an irrational dislike or fear of foreigners.

Ongoing anti-government mistrust took hold during the global economic recession between 2007 and 2009. As the tea party movement was gaining influence in the United States, separate public pushes for secession flourished in parts of Belgium, Italy, Scotland and Spain.57

Some analysts described June's Brexit vote as an echo of Trump's rise. Padraig Reidy, editor of the London news and cultural magazine Little Atoms, wrote: “The American political establishment should take note of what has happened — what was inconceivable for Britain just a few months ago has suddenly become reality.”58

But other experts say the U.S. and European versions of populism are more different than alike. Europe's is based more on a distrust of the EU imposing regulations on member countries than opposition to trade agreements, said Thomas Greven, a professor of political science at Germany's Free University of Berlin.59

Jacqueline Gehring, an assistant professor of political science at Pennsylvania's Allegheny College, said Britain “has been ambivalent about the European Union” since it was founded in the 1950s and Britain initially chose not to become a member. The Brexit vote, she added, reflected “a failure of political leadership” from then-Prime Minister David Cameron, who was criticized for failing to foresee pro-Brexit sentiment and who resigned after the referendum, which he had advocated.

“Brexit may have been pushed somewhat by recently increasing xenophobia or populism,” Gehring said, “but it is not its primary motivator.”60

The University of Georgia's Mudde also said populists in Europe and North America see immigration differently. He said Trump — unlike those on Europe's right wing — distinguishes between legal and illegal immigration, blaming the latter for what he said are the United States' problems, and “does not attack the status of the U.S. as a multicultural immigration country.”61

Others who study populism say the different political structures of the United States and many European countries shape populism in those places. Many European nations have parliamentary systems in which a coalition of parties can form a majority, enabling populist parties to share power. Unlike the United States, where third parties still lag far behind the Republican and Democratic parties, those countries have many national parties; France, for example, has more than a dozen.62

“The European context looks very different” from the United States, says Joe Lowndes, a University of Oregon professor of political science. “You have actual populist parties over there and a parliamentary system.”

Gros of the Centre for European Policy Studies said left-wing populism has prevailed across southern Europe as a result of the debt crisis that has afflicted Europe since 2009 and that resulted from the global recession.63 Meanwhile, the United States' economy has rebounded in the last few years.

In the aftermath of the global recession, several EU countries — Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus — were unable to repay or refinance their government debt or to bail out overly indebted banks under their national supervision.64

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‘Passions, Not Reason’

Without using the word “populism,” ancient philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle had reservations about democracy because of their concerns that angry segments of the public could rise up and undermine it.65

James Madison, one of the authors of the U.S. Constitution, said his biggest fear of the new United States was that “the passions … not the reason, of the public would sit in judgment.” If that happened, the future president wrote in his famous Federalist No. 10 essay in 1787, “the influence of factious leaders may kindle a flame.”66

Historians say the rise of Democrat Andrew Jackson kindled the populist flame in the 1820s. The former military hero won the popular vote in 1824 but lost to John Quincy Adams. He defeated Adams four years later in what often is described as one of the nastiest campaigns in history. In 1832 Jackson said some congressional proposals, such as using federal money to support road and canal construction, proved that “many of our rich men have not been content with equal protection and equal benefits, but have besought us to make them richer by act of Congress.”67

The economic slump that followed the Civil War (1861–65) and the start in the late 1800s of the so-called Gilded Age, in which the gap separating the rich and poor grew wider, also spurred populist developments. During the Greenback Movement, which began in 1868, farmers and others sought to prevent a drop in crop prices by maintaining or increasing the amount of paper money being circulated.68 The Granger Movement of the 1870s featured a coalition of mostly Midwestern farmers fighting railroads' monopoly on transporting grain.69

Those alliances gave way in 1890 to the Populist (or People's) Party, a third party championing former Minnesota Rep. Ignatius Donnelly's belief that “public good is paramount to private interests.”70 Its interests overlapped with the Progressive Movement of the 1890s, which also grew out of dissatisfaction with government and the power of corporate monopolies. Progressives, however, argued for less-sweeping change; for example, they opposed the Populists' belief that government should directly control or own railroads.71

In 1892, the Populist Party nominated James B. Weaver of Iowa for president and demanded a graduated income tax, with the wealthy taxed at higher rates than those with lower incomes. But Weaver won in just four states, and Democrat Grover Cleveland was elected.72

In the next presidential election, a divided group of Populists endorsed Democrat William Jennings Bryan, one of the 19th century's most famous orators, while selecting their own vice presidential nominee.73 Bryan staunchly opposed the gold standard, which limited the money supply but eased trade with other nations whose currency also was based on gold. He captivated voters with the famous edict, “You shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold,” but lost the election to Republican William McKinley.74

Another influential populist thinker of the era was Henry George, whose 1879 book Progress and Poverty sold 3 million copies to become the all-time best-selling book on economic theory to that point. George called for abolishing all taxes except for a single tax on land; he argued it would make land widely available to those who would use the property instead of keeping it in the hands of the wealthy. He also campaigned for the right of voters to cast secret ballots, making them less susceptible to intimidation.75

The Populists remained politically active until 1908, when the party combined with the Democratic Party.76 Footnote * But its beliefs have remained influential.

“Sanders could practically have run on the Populist Party platform of 1892,” said Michael Magliari, a professor of history at California State University, Chico, saying Sanders' call to let people cash checks and open savings accounts at post offices was taken directly from the earlier group's plan.77

Polarizing Figures

During the first half of the 20th century, outspoken populist leaders became prominent, including “the radio priest,” Father Charles Coughlin. He broadcast scathing attacks alleging Jewish bankers controlled the money supply and dismissed Democratic President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal — a wide-ranging series of government programs aimed at lifting the country out of the Great Depression — as a tool of banking interests.78

Another flamboyant populist was Huey Long, a Democratic governor and U.S. senator from Louisiana. Long denounced the wealthy and in 1934 proposed creating a “Share Our Wealth Society” whose slogan was “Every man a king.” He called for the government to prevent families from owning fortunes larger than $5 million to $8 million (about $90 million to $144 million today, adjusted for inflation), with the proceeds used to provide every family in the country with an annual income.

Long drew an impassioned following, but Roosevelt and other critics dubbed him a dangerous demagogue.79 Long was assassinated in 1935 but had an enduring influence in Louisiana, where he spearheaded an aggressive program of building and improving roads and bridges and providing free school lunches and textbooks to poor students.80

The 1950s saw the rise of Wisconsin Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy, another famously polarizing figure. In seeking to expose communists and other left-wing “loyalty risks” in the U.S. government, McCarthy tried “to mobilize an anti-elite sentiment,” said Daniel Bell, a Harvard professor of sociology. The Senate voted in 1954 to formally condemn McCarthy for what senators called his “inexcusable” and “vulgar” accusations. Historians say the vote greatly diminished the influence of McCarthy, who died three years later.81

Alabama's Wallace also used populism to divide rather than unite, historians say. He concluded his 1963 inaugural speech for governor with the infamous line, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” After surviving an assassination attempt, he issued public apologies later in his career for his earlier statements while improving health care and education for blacks as well as whites.82

During the 1950s and '60s, Columbia University's Richard Hofstadter became known as one of the 20th century's most influential historians. In such books as Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (1963) and The Paranoid Style in American Politics (1965), Hofstadter argued that Jacksonian-era populist sentiments had recurred throughout U.S. history, resulting in a prejudice against intellectuals as representatives of an elite that could not be trusted.83

Left-wing populism gained followers in the 1970s. Oklahoma Democratic Sen. Fred Harris ran for president in 1972 with the slogan “a new populism,” decrying liberal “elitism” while calling for a broader distribution of wealth. After failing to win the nomination, he mounted another failed effort four years later.84

Also in 1972, left-wing journalists Jack Newfield and Jeff Greenfield, in A Populist Manifesto, sought to mobilize workers, young people and minorities around the belief that “some institutions and people have too much money and power, most people have too little, and the first priority of politics must be to redress that imbalance.”85

Later in the 1970s, political referendums and state ballot initiatives began attracting attention. The initiative process, which began in South Dakota in 1898, enables citizens to vote on proposed statutes or constitutional amendments at the polls. State legislatures can place initiatives on the ballot, but the initiatives often are generated by petition drives.86

California's Proposition 13 in 1978 was the era's best-known initiatives. Conservative activists proposed it in a response to rising home values that caused property taxes to skyrocket. The initiative limited annual property taxes to 1 percent of a property's assessed value and required a two-thirds majority for any state or local tax increase. Though it achieved its goal of reducing taxes, critics said it triggered drastic cuts in public spending that hurt the quality of schools and public services.87

California later adopted other controversial ballot initiatives. Proposition 187 in 1994 made immigrants who were in the United States illegally ineligible for public benefits (although it has never been enforced); Proposition 209 in 1996 banned affirmative action at state institutions; and Proposition 227 in 1998 restricted bilingual education in public schools. In a 2005 study, three political scientists said those measures shifted the state's politics toward the Democratic Party by alienating Latinos — who had been drifting toward the GOP — as well as many white voters.88

In 1984 a new Populist Party — no connection to the original — started to run far-right candidates in the presidential elections, including former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke of Louisiana, in 1988. It failed to win any converts beyond a tiny band of extremists.89

Buchanan, the political commentator who first ran for president in 1992, also drew upon mistrust of elites. But he promoted an “America First” foreign policy that went against prevailing GOP sentiment by rejecting many international alliances. He also harshly criticized Wall Street and called illegal immigration “the greatest invasion [of the United States] in history.”90

Texas entrepreneur Perot, meanwhile, reserved his harshest criticisms for lobbyists, political action committees (PACs) and the politicians allied with them. He said they had formed “a political nobility that is immune to the people's will” and called for term limits for members of Congress, a balanced budget amendment and placement of proposed laws on a national ballot for voters to decide.91

Neither Buchanan nor Perot attracted widespread support. Although Perot drew 19 percent of the vote, he did not win a plurality of the votes in any states and no Electoral College votes.92 Consumer activist Ralph Nader, who built a passionate following in the 1960s with his attacks on corporations, also ran in 2000 as the Green Party's candidate. Some political experts say Nader received enough votes in Florida to cost Gore the state and hand the election to George W. Bush.93

Tea Party Politics

In the 2008 U.S. presidential election, GOP nominee John McCain, an Arizona senator, bypassed several experienced establishment politicians and selected first-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate. Palin drew the populist tag for portraying herself as a “hockey mom” who condemned Democratic elites.94

The tea party movement arose shortly after McCain's loss to Obama, helping the Republican Party make substantial gains in the 2014 midterm elections. But it targeted some Republicans as well. Tea party-backed college professor Dave Brat startled the political world by toppling House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia in a June 2014 GOP primary. Brat had blasted Cantor for being too cozy with Wall Street and business leaders.95

The tea party was not hostile to all government programs. A Harvard study said resistance to Obama's Affordable Care Act health care overhaul “coexists with considerable acceptance, even warmth, toward long-standing federal social programs like Social Security and Medicare, to which tea partiers feel legitimately entitled. Opposition is concentrated on resentment of perceived federal government ‘handouts’ to ‘undeserving’ groups, the definition of which seems heavily influenced by racial and ethnic stereotypes.”96

In running for president, Trump received Palin's endorsement and became “the leader the tea party never had,” according to Griffith University's McDonnell.97 However, Trump's embrace of some government programs led some tea party members to prefer Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who in the GOP primaries campaigned as a purer example of conservative principles.98 Cruz, however, could not beat Trump in many Eastern and Midwestern states, where blue-collar workers embraced Trump's “Make America Great Again” slogan.99

Trump's blaming of all politicians — not just Democrats — for what he called their inability to solve problems irked many Republicans, especially the GOP establishment, which he described as too beholden to what he said were the party's narrow interests.

During the primaries, Trump did not have to rely on the Republican Party or raise and spend significant sums of campaign money because of his celebrity and ability to command significant media attention. One study in March 2016 estimated that he had received the equivalent of nearly $2 billion in coverage through newspapers, television and other journalistic outlets. That was 2 1/2 times more than Clinton, and many times greater than any of his Republican rivals.100 At the same time, Trump made frequent use of Twitter, often lashing out at opponents.

“Inside the political power structure, Trump has no power,” said Nicco Mele, director of Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. “And so he is very effective at forcing himself into it through a combination of Twitter and earned media,” or news articles and TV broadcasts.101

Sanders, as a member of Congress, was known for criticizing so-called “corporate welfare” — government benefits, such as special provisions in the tax code, provided to businesses. In the wake of the housing crisis that started in 2007–08, public resentment toward financial companies gave rise to the Occupy Wall Street movement, which Sanders endorsed.102

Many Democrats also supported Occupy Wall Street. Yet some, unlike Sanders, accepted campaign donations from Wall Street companies and their employees that were targets of the Occupy movement. In running against Clinton, Sanders made an issue of how much she received from the banking industry — more than $1.6 million as of August 2016, according to the nonpartisan watchdog Center for Responsive Politics.103 Sanders refused to ally himself with “super PACs,” a type of independent expenditure committee that can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money on political causes or candidates.104

Liberals also admired another economic populist, Elizabeth Warren, who decried Wall Street's influence. A Harvard Law School professor, she won election as a Democrat to a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts in 2012. She said that when she was growing up in Oklahoma, the United States was “a country of expanding opportunities…. Now we talk much more about protecting those who have already made it.”105

Sanders, who became a Democrat to run for president, frequently feuded with the party's leaders and made economic issues the central focus of his campaign. That emphasis dismayed the populist Black Lives Matter movement, which urged the senator to highlight perceived abuses of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement.

Clinton, meanwhile, met with Black Lives Matter leaders for almost a year in an attempt to win their endorsement. Although the main group did not comply, a group of mothers of Black Lives leaders did endorse her.106

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*The Progressive — or Bull Moose — Party of 1912 was headed by former Republican Theodore Roosevelt, who eventually rejoined the GOP. Today, the word “progressive” generally is synonymous with liberal.

Current Situation

Political Races

Since winning the GOP nomination, Trump has continued to feud with establishment Republicans who say his populist appeals have damaged his chances of winning over undecided voters.

Some prominent Republicans have accused Trump of unpresidential conduct and said they will not vote for him.107 And 50 foreign policy and national security officials who served under several Republican presidents said in an August letter that Trump would be “the most reckless president in history.”108 Also that month, Evan McMullin, a former House Republican aide and CIA officer, launched a long-shot independent bid on a stop-Trump platform.109

Trump said in early August that some of his supporters have urged him to lower his antagonistic tone to help him win a broader audience. But he said he is uncertain about doing so. “I am now listening to people that are telling me to be easier, nicer, be softer. And you know, that's OK, and I'm doing that,” he told Time magazine. “Personally, I don't know if that's what the country wants.”110

Women staff a textile factory (Getty Images/Jie Zhao)
The “us-versus-them” attitude inherent in populism includes criticism of increased economic competition brought about by globalization. Donald Trump won the GOP presidential primaries in 89 of the 100 U.S. counties most affected by trade with China. Since 2000, the United States has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, many to China. Above, women staff a textile factory in Huaibei, in eastern China. (Getty Images/Jie Zhao)

Polls taken after the July Democratic and Republican conventions showed that Trump broadened his support among blue-collar white voters, but not among other demographics. David Wasserman, an analyst for FiveThirtyEight.com , a website on polling and demographics, noted that the non-white share of eligible voters has risen since 2012, meaning Trump will have to gain “truly historic levels of support and turnout among working-class whites” while avoiding an erosion of support among other groups.111

Despite the widespread dislike for Trump among Democrats, not all of Sanders' supporters have immediately backed Clinton. Some are expected to vote for the Green Party's Jill Stein or Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. But it remains unclear whether Stein or Johnson will appear on the November ballot in every state: As of early September, Johnson was not on the ballot in Rhode Island, while Stein was not on ballots in eight.112

Polls in early August showed that if Clinton runs against Trump without a third-party candidate on the ballot, as many as 91 percent of Sanders' backers would vote for her. But if those voters have the option of supporting a candidate other than her or Trump, that percentage drops considerably.113

In addition to the presidential campaign, several congressional races feature candidates who are described as populists. They include:

  • Democrat Zephyr Teachout, who is running for a House seat in south-eastern New York state to replace retiring GOP Rep. Chris Gibson. A law professor and Sanders supporter, Teachout ran unsuccessfully in the 2014 primary against Gov. Andrew Cuomo. “I like breaking up big banks, and I want to take on big cable,” Teachout said, referring to large cable companies she contends are overcharging consumers.114

  • Democrat Russ Feingold, who is running against Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson after being unseated by Johnson in 2010. Feingold has criticized trade deals and government aid to corporations as well as the 2010 Dodd-Frank law overhauling the financial industry, saying it was too lenient.115

  • Republican Mark Assini, who is in a rematch against veteran Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter for a seat representing the Rochester, N.Y., area after narrowly losing to Slaughter two years ago. Assini has echoed Trump in decrying “bad trade deals” as well as calling for a crackdown on undocumented immigrants who commit crimes.116

Ballot Initiatives

One sign of the strength of modern populism, experts say, is the growth in the number of citizen-driven ballot initiatives appearing on state ballots across the country this fall.

As of early September, 75 petition-driven initiatives will be on the November ballot in various states — more than double the 35 in 2014 and more than in both 2010 and 2012, according to the political website Ballotpedia, which tracks such developments. That growth has come even as the total number of ballot measures — which includes state lawmakers' decisions to put issues to a public vote — has fallen in recent years.

Low turnout in recent elections that has made it easier for advocates of an issue to collect enough signatures to force an initiative vote. In all but three states — North Dakota, Idaho and Nebraska — the number of signatures required for an initiative to be included on a ballot is based on a percentage of votes cast in a previous election.117

This year's initiatives cover an assortment of controversial issues, including requiring background checks for all gun purchases in Nevada, closing what gun-control advocates say are legal loopholes permitting unmonitored sales at gun shows and other venues.118 Voters in Maine and Washington state successfully petitioned for initiatives that would raise the minimum wage in those states.119

In North Dakota, opponents of a controversial law that relaxed a ban on corporate-owned farms gathered enough signatures to place a referendum to overturn the law on the ballot in June. The referendum passed by a 3-to-1 margin and was seen as a rebuke to large corporations that have replaced family farms in much of rural America.120

Such companies “could buy up all the land, and it means nothing to them,” said Laurie Wagner, a Wing, N.D., farmer who sought to overturn the state law. “They could make it impossible for people like us to compete.”121

International Populism

The U.K.'s Brexit vote has sparked debate in Europe about the broad-ranging implications of populism. Some of those who opposed the move are concerned it could have further negative impacts if the country does not address the concerns that led to its adoption.

“I have feared for many years that large-scale immigration to the U.K. would produce a harmful populist response,” said Adair Turner, chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking, a New York City think tank. “Global elites must now learn and act upon the crucial lesson of Brexit. Contrary to glib assumptions, globalization of capital, trade, and migration flows is not good for everyone.”122

Analysts said the vote also could inspire other European nations to hold similar votes to leave the EU. France, the Netherlands, Austria, Finland and Hungary are seen as the most likely candidates.123 Meanwhile, anti-Brexit supporters in Scotland, which rejected seceding from the U.K. in 2014, have discussed holding another secession vote that would enable Scotland to remain in the EU.124

In Latin America, Brazil and other countries are dealing with the fallout from the waning popularity of left-wing populist parties. In Argentina, business-friendly centrist Mauricio Macri became president last December, succeeding Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, whose populist rule was blamed for a sharp economic downturn.125

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‘Here to Stay’

The dominance of social media and frustration with political parties and other institutions will continue to propel populism, according to many experts, who say Trump and Sanders have tapped an anti-establishment mood that will not disappear soon.

“Trump forces, having entered the arena, aren't likely to simply exit quietly,” said Gerald Seib, the Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau chief. “If Mr. Trump wins, they will be empowered. If their standard-bearer fails, Republicans will have to learn to deal with an unhappy, establishment-hating army within. Eventually, Democrats may have to as well.”126

Meanwhile, many experts say the issues that Sanders' campaign raised — such as free tuition at public colleges — will sustain left-wing populism, even if Sanders' supporters help to elect Clinton in November. “Those ideas, once they're introduced a legitimized way, are hard to tamp down,” the University of Oregon's Lowndes says.

In a new book, Populism's Power: Radical Grassroots Democracy in America, Wellesley College professor of political science Laura Grattan said the left-wing populism of grassroots groups “can replace the traditional institutions that have failed citizens,” pointing to “decimated social services, overcrowded and abandoned schools, shrinking access to higher education” and numerous other problems.

“When people in America face a heightened sense of insecurity, it is more difficult than ever to see political solutions to our problems,” she said.127

Robert Reich, an economist and liberal activist who served as secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, predicted that an anti-establishment “People's Party” made up of disaffected Democrats as well as some Republicans could take root as soon as 2020.128

But Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at the New America think tank, said the Democratic Party can incorporate populism. He predicted that over the next decade, Republicans will face a split between their populist and business-establishment wings, with the populists prevailing. Meanwhile, he said, Democrats will attract support from the business establishment while taking in the concerns of Sanders' largely city-based voters.

“Eventually, the Democrats will become the party of urban cosmopolitan business liberalism, and the Republicans will become the party of suburban and rural nationalist populism,” Drutman said.129

Bonikowski, the Harvard sociologist, says the right-wing populism of Trump's campaign likely will encourage future candidates to run similar races playing on fears about immigration and a suspicion of other ethnic groups. “What were once private conversations around the dinner table are now okay in the public sphere — which is unusual,” he says. “Even if Trump loses, the genie's out of the box.”

The University of Stockholm's Moffitt predicted that in the United States and elsewhere, the lines separating populists and non-populists increasingly will diminish, as politicians of all leanings continue to seek ways to command followings through the news media and social media.

“We will see populist figures become increasingly brought into the ‘mainstream’ fold, while ostensibly ‘mainstream’ politicians will likely crib from the populist playbook,” Moffitt said. “In other words, populism is here to stay.”130

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Is Donald Trump a populist?


Ronald Inglehart , Pippa Norris
Political Science Professor, University of Michigan. Political Science Professor, Harvard University. Excerpted from paper presented at American Political Science Association conference, September 2016

Donald Trump's populism is rooted in claims that he is an outsider to D.C. politics, a self-made billionaire leading an insurgency movement on behalf of ordinary Americans disgusted with the corrupt establishment, incompetent politicians, dishonest Wall Street speculators, arrogant intellectuals and politically correct liberals.

The CNN exit polls across all of the 2016 GOP primaries and caucuses from Iowa onwards revealed that the education gap in support for Trump was substantial; on average, only one quarter of postgraduates voted for Trump compared with almost half (45 percent) of those with high school education or less. Despite being located on opposite sides of the aisle, Trump's rhetoric taps into some of the same populist anti-elite anger articulated by Bernie Sanders when attacking big corporations, big donors and big banks.

But Trump and Sanders are far from unique. There are historical precedents in America exemplified by former Louisiana Gov. Huey Long's “Share Our Wealth” movement and former Alabama Gov. George Wallace's white backlash. And Trump's angry nativist rhetoric and nationalistic appeal fits the wave of populist leaders whose support has been swelling in many Western democracies. During the last two decades, in many countries, parties led by populist authoritarian leaders have grown in popularity, gaining legislative seats, reaching ministerial office and holding the balance of power.

Populist movements, leaders, and parties provide a mechanism for channeling active resistance. Hence Trump's slogan “Make America Great Again” — and his rejection of “political correctness” — appeals nostalgically to a mythical “golden past,” especially for older white men, when American society was less diverse, U.S. leadership was unrivaled among Western powers during the Cold War era, threats of terrorism pre-9/11 were in distant lands but not at home, and conventional sex roles for women and men reflected patrimonial power relationships within the family and workforce.

Similar messages can be heard echoed in the rhetoric of France's Marine Le Pen, the Netherlands' Geert Wilders and other populist leaders. This nostalgia is most likely to appeal to older citizens who have seen changes erode their cultural predominance and threaten their core social values, potentially provoking a response expressing anger, resentment and political disaffection.


David McLennan
Visiting Political Science Professor, Meredith College. Written for CQ Researcher, September 2016

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump has often been labeled a populist. Although Trump appeals to many in the country who are angry with the political establishment, a closer look shows that he is more of a demagogue than a populist.

At first glance, Trump fits the traditional definition of “populist” regarding social issues and economic policies. Stylistically, populists rail against corrupt institutions like government and business that hurt the average person. Populists often state that solutions to problems are easy to implement, once the political system is changed and the corruption removed. Sound familiar?

The classic populist in American political history was William Jennings Bryan (1860–1925), the three-time Democratic nominee for president, who was known as “The Great Commoner.” He attacked the Eastern elite and their support of the gold standard and brought many populists into the Democratic Party. As an orator, Bryan spoke with empathy for the common people, but even when attacking the elites, he showed no ill will toward those who supported the gold standard or other policies.

Bryan's economic, foreign and social policy positions reflected traditional populism. His economic messages often focused on ways to improve the lives of common people, in which he supported a minimum wage, standard workweeks and inspections of food, sanitation and housing conditions.

Although Trump rails against the elites on Wall Street and in Washington and he is popular with a large segment of the working class, he fails to compare to Bryan in the talking points we've heard in his countless rallies to date.

It doesn't help that Trump's policies are constantly evolving and revolving. His positions on immigration and trade restrictions are clearly populist, but large tax cuts for the wealthy and business are not. On foreign policy, his muddled positions on military intervention in the Middle East or Europe are more idiosyncratic than philosophical. It is on social issues, however, that Trump seems more opportunistic than populist. Until his involvement in presidential politics, Trump's positions on abortion or guns were more progressive than many in his current political base.

Rhetorically, Trump sounds like a populist when he attacks the political system or political elites, but his ad hominem attacks on individuals and groups do not fit the approach taken by Bryan. Because Trump scapegoats many ethnic and religious groups, he seems more of a demagogue than a true populist.

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1820s–1910sEarly populists back the interests of farmers and laborers.
1828Democrat Andrew Jackson, whom historians consider a leading figure in American populism, wins the presidency.
1891The Populist (or People's) Party is founded, merging the interests of farmers and laborers. A year later, populist presidential candidate James Weaver of Iowa loses to incumbent Democratic President Grover Cleveland.
1896Populists endorse Democrat William Jennings Bryan for president; he loses to Republican William McKinley.
1908Populists cease to be politically active, combining with the Democratic Party.
1920s–1960sControversial populist politicians emerge.
1926Father Charles Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest, begins anti-semitic attacks on banks and other institutions.
1928Democrat Huey Long is elected Louisiana governor and denounces the wealthy and banks, calling for redistribution of wealth.
1962Democrat George Wallace is elected Alabama governor on a populist, pro-segregation platform.
1965Historian Richard Hofstadter argues that populist sentiments of Jackson's era had recurred throughout U.S. history.
1970s–1990sPopulist initiatives on taxes, immigration gain support.
1972Oklahoma Sen. Fred Harris unsuccessfully seeks the Democratic presidential nomination with the slogan “a new populism,” denouncing liberal “elitism.”
1978California voters approve Proposition 13, which slashed property taxes.
1992Republican Patrick Buchanan and independent H. Ross Perot wage unsuccessful populist campaigns for president.
1994California voters approve Proposition 187, which prevents undocumented immigrants from receiving education, health care or other public services.
1996Buchanan and Perot again run unsuccessfully for president.
2000sPopulist candidates gain national stage.
2002Far-right French presidential candidate Jean-Marie Le Pen defeats socialist Prime Minister Lionel Jospin in the first round of voting.
2008Republican presidential candidate John McCain of Arizona selects as his vice presidential running mate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who denounces Democratic elites.
2009Tea party movement arises to challenge President Obama.
2011Occupy Wall Street movement attacks the power of the financial industry.
2013The Black Lives Matter movement forms to protest police racism and violence against African-Americans.
2014Tea party-backed college professor Dave Brat topples House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia in GOP primary…. Tea party candidates help Republicans make substantial gains in November elections.
2015Republican Donald Trump launches presidential campaign on a “Make America Great Again” populist platform…. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders announces he will run for president as a Democrat.
2016Trump wins the GOP nomination but alienates Republicans with incendiary rhetoric …. Sanders loses in Democratic primaries to Hillary Clinton but endorses her…. United Kingdom votes to withdraw from European Union …. North Dakota voters reject a controversial law that would have relaxed a ban on corporate farms.

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Short Features

On the right and left, populism is sprouting across the continent.

Populism has long found the soils of Europe a fertile place to grow, thanks to a history of tensions with immigrants and a multiparty system that breeds anti-establishment views.

Experts say economic and cultural concerns have fueled populism's growth. The decline of manufacturing jobs and influx of immigrants have helped to stoke populism on the right, while suspicions about government power and institutions such as the European Union have boosted it on the left.

For populists, these developments have been translating into gains at the polls. In a new study, political scientists Ronald Inglehart of the University of Michigan and Pippa Norris of Harvard University found that the average share of the vote for populist parties in European elections has nearly tripled since the 1960s, from 5 percent to 13.2 percent.

During those five and a half decades, the share of seats in legislative bodies held by politicians considered to be populists more than tripled, from just below 4 percent to nearly 13 percent, according to Inglehart and Norris.1

Here are some of the most prominent right-wing and left-wing Europeans who are widely described in media and academic circles as populists:

Austria: Norbert Hofer

Hofer, 45, is the leader of Austria's Freedom Party, which Ruth Wodak, an emeritus professor of linguistics and English language at England's Lancaster University and author of a recent book on populism, described as “a far-right populist party claiming that its intention is to protect Austrian culture and national identity.”2

Hofer lost the presidential election in April, but his party appealed the result and a court invalidated it, citing sloppiness in ballot handling. Another election is scheduled for October.3

The presidency is largely ceremonial, but Hofer has promised to seek to fire the coalition government in charge if it fails to control immigration more strictly. His party also has vowed speedier deportations of undocumented immigrants and increased surveillance of mosques and Muslim schools.4

France: Marine Le Pen

Le Pen, 48, is the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the conservative National Front party who was widely criticized for his anti-Semitism and racism. She took over as its leader in 2011.

The Washington Post described Marine Le Pen as “Europe's pioneer in attempting to cast the populist far right in a more respectable light.”5 Unlike her father, she has acknowledged and condemned the Holocaust but continued his call for drastically limiting legal immigration. She has demanded that legal immigrants who have been unemployed for six months return to their country of origin, regardless of how long they have lived in France.

Le Pen unsuccessfully ran for president in 2012 and is expected to run again in 2017. She said she would hold a referendum on her country's membership in the EU within six months.6

Greece: Alexis Tsipras

Tsipras, 42, is the leader of Syriza, which academics and media outlets say is a left-wing populist party. He was elected Greece's prime minister last year on a surge of public hostility to stringent austerity measures that the government had imposed after the country plunged into financial crisis.7

Under his leadership, Greek lawmakers in May approved some tax hikes and other, lesser austerity measures that Tsipras said were aimed at eventually making the country less reliant on aid from other European nations.8

Like other populist leaders, Tsipras has made frequent use of social media, putting out regular YouTube videos and frequent tweets in which he has argued that the people's will is more important than the wishes of government officials.9

Geert Wilders (Getty Images/Matt Jelonek)
Geert Wilders, founder of the ultra-nationalist Dutch Party for Freedom, is among the most controversial politicians in Europe. He has called the Quran a fascist book that should be banned. (Getty Images/Matt Jelonek)

Netherlands: Geert Wilders

Wilders, 52, is the founder and leader of the Dutch Party for Freedom, which Wodak said practices an “ethno-nationalist” populism pushing a strong national identity.10

Wilders is among the most controversial politicians in Europe, having said the Quran is a “fascist book” that should be banned alongside Mein Kampf, in which Adolf Hitler outlined his plans for Nazi Germany.11 He has been among the loudest in condemning Muslim immigration to his country.12

Wilders said he would call for a referendum on Dutch membership in the EU if he is elected as prime minister in March.13

Spain: Pablo Iglesias

Iglesias, 37, is secretary-general of Podemos (“We Can”), which academics and media describe as a left-wing populist party. It formed in 2014 and merged in May with several minor parties to become Unidos Podemos (“United We Can”). But the party failed in June's elections to replace the center-left Socialist Party as leader of the country's political left.14

Iglesias is a former political science lecturer in Madrid and former member of the European Parliament. He entered politics after taking part in protests against globalization.

He said he and other protesters “understood that a big part of the important decisions weren't being taken by democratically elected governments, but rather, institutions that weren't chosen by anyone, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) or the World Bank.”15

United Kingdom: Nigel Farage

Farage, 52, served from 2006 to 2009 and from 2010 until July as the leader of the UK Independence Party, which many describe as a “Euroskeptic” populist party that is suspicious of alliances with other European nations.16

He was a prominent leader of the pro-Brexit movement along with Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London who is now the UK's secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs. Farage said in August that he would consider returning to lead the party if Brexit is not implemented to his satisfaction.17 He traveled to the United States to campaign for Donald Trump and said of Trump's supporters, “They are the same people who made Brexit happen.”18

— Chuck McCutcheon

[1] Ronald F. Inglehart and Pippa Norris, “Trump, Brexit and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash,” Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, July 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/heh5aqz.

[2] Ruth Wodak, The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean (2015), p. 191.

[3] Josh Lowe, “Far Right Takes Lead in Austria Presidential Election Re-Run,” Newsweek, Aug. 2, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/gtjrhkb.

[4] Anthony Faiola, “Meet the Donald Trumps of Europe,” The Washington Post, May 19, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hv8e6z5.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Cecile Alduy, “The Devil's Daughter,” The Atlantic, October 2013, http://tinyurl.com/jt6ng59; Elisabeth Zerofsky, “Marine Le Pen Prepares for a ‘Frexit,’” The New Yorker, June 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zeqmh3f.

[7] Jeff Wallenfeldt, “Alexis Tsipras,” Encyclopaedia Brittanica, http://tinyurl.com/z8xqnlb.

[8] Niki Kitsantonis, “Greek Lawmakers Narrowly Approve Austerity Legislation,” The New York Times, May 22, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/gksbujf.

[9] David Auerbach, “The Digital Demogogue,” Slate, July 2, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/omqe2gp.

[10] Wodak, op. cit., p. 206.

[11] Bruno Waterfield, “Ban Koran Like Mein Kampf, Says Dutch MP,” The Telegraph (U.K.), Aug. 9, 2007, http://tinyurl.com/jsqsvbs.

[12] Faiola, op. cit.

[13] “Dutch anti-immigration leader Wilders calls for Dutch referendum on EU membership,” Reuters, June 24, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/ht5u9m3.

[14] Jon Stone, “Spanish leftists Podemos boosted by new electoral alliance,” Newsweek, May 16, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/j4agzjd; Tobias Buck, “Spain's Podemos mourns losses at 2016 election,” Financial Times, June 28, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jfdzb8n.

[15] Zoe Williams, “P?odemos ?leader ?Pablo Iglesias on why he's like Jeremy Corbyn: ‘He brings ideas that can solve problems,’” The Guardian (U.K.), Dec. 15, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/nk6l5k6.

[16] Wodak, op. cit., p. 207.

[17] Arj Singh and Georgia Diebelius, “Nigel Farage reveals he would consider returning as Ukip leader ‘if Brexit is not delivered,” The Mirror (U.K.), Aug. 14, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jqkn9ax.

[18] David Wright, “Brexit leader Nigel Farage calls Trump ‘the new Ronald Reagan,’” CNN.com, Aug. 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/h62bgf8.

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Some worry speed and venom can outstrip sober deliberation.

When Donald Trump tweets a populist-oriented attack, as he's done regularly throughout the presidential race, TV networks and other media often waste no time reporting on it.

“I do a tweet on something,” Trump boasts, “something not even significant, and they break into their news within seconds.”19

Trump's use of Twitter shows how it and other social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, thrive on the ability of politicians instantly to reach a wide audience — a perfect complement to populist rhetoric, which thrives on striking an emotional us-versus-them chord with the public.

But many experts say those features can overshadow or conflict with what they view as the sober and deliberative process of traditional politics.

Populists long have deployed the media to their advantage, going back to the People's (Populist) Party publishing its own crusading newspapers in the 1890s.20 But Trump and unsuccessful Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders have employed social media both to send messages to voters and, in newer fashion, to foster a two-way dialogue with them.

Trump and Sanders “are using social media like you or I would use social media,” said Matt Lira, a Republican digital strategist. “They're using it as a platform to genuinely engage their supporters.”21

Such populist-driven uses of social media can have positive results, such as rapidly spreading news about rallies or instantly obtaining hundreds of thousands of petition signatures, said Jill Lepore, a Harvard University professor of history and a writer for The New Yorker. But she cited negative consequences as well, including “the atomizing of the electorate,” or making voters more individualistic and less concerned about others' well-being by encouraging them to act quickly rather than thoughtfully.

“There's a point at which political communication speeds past the last stop where democratic deliberation, the genuine consent of the governed, is possible,” Lepore said. “An instant poll, of the sort that pops up on your screen while you're attempting to read debate coverage, encourages snap and solitary judgment, the very opposite of what's necessary for the exercise of good citizenship.”22

At the same time, some in politics express concern that social media is reinforcing populist outrage at the establishment and diminishing civility among politicians, campaign workers and the public.

“I have a lot of friends working for various campaigns right now,” said Republican strategist Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney's presidential campaign in 2012. “They hate each other. We have candidates running for the highest office in the United States trolling each other on social media. That's what social media also has given us.”23

Concerns about social media's effect on political discourse are not limited to the United States. Srgjan Ivanovik, a journalist in Macedonia, said social media has increased politicians' tendency to manipulate opinion by telling the public what it wants to hear without regard for the truth.

“Leaders have learned a lesson from the internet,” Ivanovik said. “Our interest in their campaigns is more like [reality TV's] ‘The X Factor’ or ‘Choose Your Idol’ shows than a real political platform with adequate programs, solutions and answers. In response, our leaders simply became populist. They answer what the majority wants to hear.”24

Ruth Wodak, an emeritus professor of linguistics and English language at England's Lancaster University, said a populist “media-democracy” in Europe and elsewhere has produced a climate “in which the individual, media-savvy performance of politics seems to become more important than the political process.” Thus, she said, “politics is reduced to a few slogans thought to be comprehensible to the public at large.”25

British multimillionaire Arron Banks, the largest financial donor to this summer's “Brexit” referendum in which the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, said populist strategists for the leave-the-EU effort used Facebook and other social media to make stark emotional warnings about the dangers of immigration.

By comparison, Banks said, proponents of remaining in the EU “featured fact, fact, fact, fact, fact. It just doesn't work. You have got to connect with people emotionally.”26

Banks' comments drew a rebuke from Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of Britain's Guardian and a Brexit opponent. “When ‘facts don't work’ and voters don't trust the media, everyone believes in their own ‘truth’ — and the results, as we have just seen [with Brexit], can be devastating,” Viner wrote. “When the prevailing mood is anti-elite and anti-authority, trust in big institutions, including the media, begins to crumble.”27

But Scott Adams, creator of the cartoon “Dilbert,” said social media can curb some of the excesses of populism. Adams, who regularly blogs about current events, cited the fistfights and other disturbances that arose at several rallies for Trump earlier this year.

“The fear is that the small scuffles will escalate to something terrible,” Adams wrote. “But social media solves that. Every person at a Trump rally knows the world is watching. And it isn't just big media that is watching. Every phone in every pocket is a direct link to the world. And Trump supporters know their candidate would be done if a big riot broke out.”28

— Chuck McCutcheon

[19] Jim Rutenberg, “The Mutual Dependence of Donald Trump and the News Media,” The New York Times, March 20 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jg4wv9u.

[20] “Kansas populist newspapers,” Kansas Historical Society, http://tinyurl.com/h8mgpsn; “People's Party,” Texas State Historical Association, http://tinyurl.com/huyc8hm.

[21] Issie Lapowsky, “Trump Isn't the First Tech-Propelled Populist. But This Time It's Different,” Wired, May 13, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hqj372p.

[22] Jill Lepore, “The Party Crashers,” The New Yorker, Feb. 22, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/h2onlbj.

[23] James Irwin, “America Rising Founder: Social Media Fuels Populism,” GW Today, Feb. 19, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/z8kfgs2.

[24] Srgjan Ivanovik, “Social Media is Making Politicians More Populist Than Ever!” The Good Men Project, Sept. 24, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/jk2gzr5.

[25] Ruth Wodak, The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean (2015), p. 11.

[26] Robert Booth, Alan Travis and Amelia Gentleman, “Leave donor plans new party to replace Ukip — possibly without Farage in charge,” The Guardian (U.K.), June 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/has69a3.

[27] Katharine Viner, “How technology disrupted the truth,” The Guardian (U.K.), July 12, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jecdlaq.

[28] Scott Adams, “Social media is the new government,” Scott Adams' Blog, March 21, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hecmcam.

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Albertazzi, Daniele, and Duncan McDonnell , Populists in Power , Taylor & Francis, 2015. Professors of politics at England's University of Birmingham (Albertazzi) and Australia's Griffith University (McDonnell) consider whether populist parties can govern successfully by examining populism in Italy and Switzerland.

Grattan, Laura , Populism's Power: Radical Grassroots Democracy in America , Oxford University Press, 2016. A Wellesley College professor of political science argues that left-wing populist movements can improve U.S. democracy.

Moffitt, Benjamin , The Global Rise of Populism: Performance, Political Style, and Representation , Stanford University Press, 2016. A research fellow in political science at Sweden's University of Stockholm explores how media are influencing contemporary populism.

Wodak, Ruth , The Politics of Fear: What Right-Wing Populist Discourses Mean , SAGE, 2015. A professor of discourse studies at England's Lancaster University explains how global right-wing populists are bringing what she says are extremist views into the political mainstream.


Faiola, Anthony , “Meet the Donald Trumps of Europe,” The Washington Post, May 19, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hv8e6z5. A journalist looks at right-wing populist leaders in Europe who often are compared to Donald Trump.

Ip, Greg , “Rise of Populist Right Doesn't Signal Demise of Globalization,” The Wall Street Journal, June 8, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/gq8henb. The newspaper's chief economics correspondent contends that immigration, rather than globalization, is fueling populism in Europe and the United States.

Jacobs, Andrew , “Brazil Workers' Party, Leaders ‘Intoxicated’ by Power, Falls From Grace,” The New York Times, May 12, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/how87cf. A reporter outlines the downfall of a left-wing populist party in Brazil whose leaders could not overcome deep economic problems and corruption.

Kolhatkar, Sheelah , “How Hillary Clinton Became a Better Economic Populist Than Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, Aug. 12, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hgddmga. A journalist argues the Democratic presidential nominee is embracing economic populism.

Lapowsky, Issie , “Trump Isn't The First Tech-Propelled Populist. But This Time's Different,” Wired, May 13, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/hqj372p. A journalist says Donald Trump's and Bernie Sanders' use of social media differs sharply from earlier populists' use of communication tools.

Lehmann, Chris , “Donald Trump and the Long Tradition of American Populism,” Newsweek, Aug. 22, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/ztdydmj. A journalist compares Donald Trump to earlier populist leaders, finding similarities in their grievances against elites.

Liasson, Mara , “How This Election's Populist Politics Are Bigger Than Trump And Sanders,” NPR, April 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zo5zsk2. Experts predict that Trump's and Sanders' versions of populism will extend beyond 2016.

Mudde, Cas , “The problem with populism,” The Guardian (U.K.), Feb. 17, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/jfjfeqv. A University of Georgia professor of international affairs explains the various types of populism.

Poole, Isaiah J. , “Reclaiming Populism: Progressive Movement Is Alive and Well in the 21st Century,” AlterNet, April 29, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/m39pbzm. A left-wing activist says progressive groups are seeking to use populism to counter corporations' influence on government.

Reports and Studies

Alvares, Claudia, and Peter Dahlgren , “Populism, extremism and media: Mapping an uncertain terrain,” European Journal of Communication, February 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zxm7rmb. Communications researchers at Portugal's Lusófona University (Alvares) and Sweden's Lund University (Dahlgren) explore how the media are influencing populism in Europe.

Bonikowski, Bart, and Noam Gidron , “The Populist Style in American Politics: Presidential Campaign Discourse, 1952–1996,” Social Forces, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/goo4vzm. Harvard professors of sociology (Bonikowski) and government (Gidron) find frequent use of populist themes in presidential speeches during the latter half of the 20th century.

Inglehart, Ronald, and Pippa Norris , “Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash,” Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, August 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jd5u9pe. Professors of political science at the University of Michigan (Inglehart) and Harvard (Norris) examine the factors responsible for the rise of populist parties in Europe

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The Next Step

Ballot Initiatives

Lerner, Kira , “Gun Control Will Be On The Ballot In 4 Big States This November,” ThinkProgress, Aug. 16, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j42wvf4. California, Nevada, Maine and Washington state will vote in November on gun control ballot measures after supporters frustrated with government inaction launched grassroots petition drives.

Samuelsohn, Darren , “Ballot initiatives could tip the balance in swing states,” Politico, Aug. 13, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/gng3vzw. Hot-button ballot measures, including marijuana legalization and gun control, could sway votes in closely contested races in several battleground states during the presidential election.

Economic Populism

Hilsenrath, Jon , “Years of Fed Missteps Fueled Disillusion With the Economy and Washington,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 26, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j6sjnvd. An economics writer says Federal Reserve actions in the decade since the housing bubble burst have increased frustrations among left-wing voters and sparked populist movements such as Occupy Wall Street.

Oliphant, James , “Trump's economic advisory group clashes with populist image,” Reuters, Aug. 5, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hkzpbyn. Critics of GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump say his populist campaign rhetoric, which criticizes corporate America's outsourcing of jobs, clashes with the banking and corporate leaders who are his economic policy advisers.

Seib, Gerald F. , “Behind the Rise of Populism, Economic Angst,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 20, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/gocflro. Middle-class economic insecurities and a fear of immigrants are fueling populist anti-establishment sentiment in both the United States and Europe, says The Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau chief.

Populism Abroad

Broning, Michael , “The Rise of Populism in Europe,” Foreign Affairs, June 3, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/ztu4o9p. A German policy analyst says immigration, concerns over the euro and public dissatisfaction with the establishment have contributed to a surge in populist politics in Europe.

Gittelsohn, John , “Franklin's Hasenstab Calls Rise of Global Populism Biggest Risk,” Bloomberg, June 13, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zuhxaww. An executive at the investment firm Franklin Resources says the biggest risks to global economic growth are the rise of populism and “ultra-nationalism,” because of their destabilizing economic effects.

Matthews, Owen , “Beyond Brexit: Europe's Populist Backlash Against Immigration And Globalization,” Newsweek, June 28, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hh6vwaq. A British writer says Brexit, the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union, underscored attitudes rooted in anti-immigrant fears and unhappiness about globalization.

Presidential Race

Graham, David A. , “Trump's Shotgun Marriage of Populism and Supply-Side Economics,” The Atlantic, Aug. 8, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jn99vae. A journalist contends Donald Trump's economic agenda combines populism with supply-side economics to draw votes from working-class white men while increasing support from wealthy voters and women.

Lee, Kurtis , “Bernie Sanders launches political organization to further his progressive ideals,” Los Angeles Times, Aug. 24, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jyasecn. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is starting a political organization that will help fund candidates whose politics match his populist leanings.

Miller, S. A. , “Donald Trump taps into populism, nationalism in Virginia,” The Washington Times, Aug. 20, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/ja4wbhe. A journalist says Trump hopes his message against Washington elites and the effects of globalism will resonate among voters in the key swing state of Virginia.

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American Enterprise Institute
1150 17th St., N.W., Washington, DC 20036
Conservative think tank analyzing populism and other political trends.

Campaign for America's Future
1825 K St., N.W., Washington, DC 20006
Liberal political advocacy organization studying left-wing populism.

Centre for European Policy Studies
1 Place du Congres, 1000 Brussels, Belgium
+32 (0) 2 229 39 11
Think tank studying populism and other developments in Europe.

Donald J. Trump for President
725 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10022
Campaign offices and website.

147 Columbus Ave., 4th floor, New York, NY 10023
Website founded by statistician Nate Silver that examines how populism shapes political campaigns.

Hillary for America
P.O. Box 5256, New York, NY 10185
Campaign offices and website.

Our Revolution
603 2nd St., N.E., Washington, DC 20002
Political group begun by Sen. Bernie Sanders to further his populist goals.

Pew Research Center
1615 L St., N.W., Suite 700, Washington, DC 20036
Nonpartisan think tank providing information on issues, attitudes and trends shaping the United States.

Weatherhead Center for International Affairs
Harvard University, 737 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA 02138
Research center whose interests include studying international populism.

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[1] “What Do Voters Think of Donald Trump?” Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter, Jan. 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/h54wyae.

[2] Eduardo Porter, “In ‘Brexit’ and Trump, a Populist Farewell to Laissez-Faire Capitalism,” The New York Times, June 28, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zhahcho.

[3] Scott Kirsner, “Test-riding Uber, the populist car service you summon with a mobile app,” Boston.com , Oct. 18, 2011, http://tinyurl.com/zz4v8nd; Aaron A. Fox, Real Country: Music and Language in Working-Class Culture (2004), http://tinyurl.com/hrvh2ps; and Jay Cridlin, “Pearl Jam at 25: Back on the road, and bound for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame,” Tampa Bay Times, April 7, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hwwvsta.

[4] E. J. Dionne, “The Tea Party: Populism of the Privileged,” The Washington Post, April 19, 2010, http://tinyurl.com/y83s9kq; Joe Lowndes and Dorian Warren, “Occupy Wall Street: A Twenty-First Century Populist Movement?” Dissent, Oct. 21, 2011, http://tinyurl.com/h7ydw76; and Robert Borosage, “Embracing the New Populist Moment,” Campaign for America's Future, July 19, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hphkdup.

[5] Diego von Vacano, “Hugo Chavez and the Death of Populism,” Monkey Cage blog, March 6, 2013, http://tinyurl.com/j6bouk5.

[6] Benjamin Moffitt, The Global Rise of Populism (2016), p. 160.

[7] Ibid., pp. 44–46. See also Tom Price, “Polarization in America,” CQ Researcher, Feb. 24, 2014, pp. 193–216.

[8] Michael Kimmel, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era (2013), http://tinyurl.com/zusrkoo.

[9] David Goldstein, “Gore's refrain: ‘They're for powerful; we're for people,’” Deseret News, Aug. 5, 2000, http://tinyurl.com/jfpk9bg.

[10] Jennifer Epstein and Margaret Talev, “Clinton Adopts Sanders’ Rhetoric of ‘Rigged’ Economy in Debate,” Bloomberg, Feb. 11, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hdx8paa.

[11] Sheelah Kolkhatkar, “How Hillary Clinton Became a Better Economic Populist Than Donald Trump,” The New Yorker, Aug. 12, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hgddmga.

[12] Paul Waldman, “Jeb Bush says he's going to tackle special interests in Washington. Don't believe him,” The Week, July 7, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/zez4ueh.

[13] See Sarah Glazer, “Wealth and Inequality,” CQ Researcher, April 18, 2014, pp. 337–360.

[14] Mara Liasson, “How This Election's Populist Politics Are Bigger Than Trump And Sanders,” NPR, April 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zo5zsk2.

[15] Isaiah J. Poole, “Reclaiming Populism: Progressive Movement Is Alive and Well in the 21st Century,” AlterNet, April 29, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/m39pbzm.

[16] Zack Beauchamp, “A Republican intellectual explains why the Republican Party is going to die,” Vox.com , July 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hkr7s79.

[17] Michael Cooper Jr., “A Message From Trump's America,” U.S. News & World Report, March 9, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/znmrjkc.

[18] Patricia Cohen, “What Trump and the GOP Can Agree On: Tax Cuts for the Rich,” The New York Times, July 10, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zsmj8aa; Robert W. Wood, “Clinton Vows Estate Tax Hikes, While Trump Vows Repeal,” Forbes, Aug. 9, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/gnq8k2c.

[19] Farai Chideya, “What Can Europe's Far Right Tell Us About Trump's Rise?” FiveThirtyEight.com , May 18, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j4p3pcb.

[20] Andy Kroll, “The Bernie Revolution: What's so appealing about a grumpy 74-year-old?” Yahoo! News, Dec. 3, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/jpkad3p.

[21] Kira Lerner, “Gun Control Will Be On The Ballot In 4 Big States This November,” Think Progress, Aug. 16, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j42wvf4. See also Tamara Lytle, “Gun Control,” CQ Researcher, July 25, 2016.

[22] Cas Mudde, “The problem with populism,” The Guardian (U.K.), Feb. 17, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/jfjfeqv.

[23] “Trends in Party Identification, 1939–2014,” Pew Research Center, April 7, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/q4emnog.

[24] Carroll Doherty and Jocelyn Kiley, “Key facts about partisanship and political animosity in America,” Pew Research Center, June 22, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zvmdudk.

[25] William M. Daley, Jonathan Cowan and Lanae Erickson Hatalsky, “Why Bernie Sanders Can't Win,” Politico, Dec. 8, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/hk6ssx2.

[26] See Peter Katel, “Tea Party Movement,” CQ Researcher, March 19, 2010, pp. 241–264.

[27] Robert Kagan, “Trump is the GOP's Frankenstein monster. Now he's strong enough to destroy the party,” The Washington Post, Feb. 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/h2e7gsy.

[28] See Chuck McCutcheon, “Future of the GOP,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 24, 2014, pp. 889–912.

[29] Arthur C. Brooks and Gail Collins, “The Democrats Nailed It. Does It Matter?” The New York Times, July 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zu8nsw8.

[30] Reid J. Epstein, “Donald Trump: ‘I'm Afraid the Election Is Going to Be Rigged,’” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 1, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zswbbon. Chris Moody and Kristen Holmes, “Donald Trump's history of suggesting Obama is a Muslim,” CNN, Sept. 18, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/nkdxdhj.

[31] Monica Bauer, “Berning up the Internet: Conspiracy Theories Poison the Well,” The Huffington Post, April 21, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/ztwgcau.

[32] “The Rage Against Trade,” The New York Times, Aug. 6, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hyc9guu. For background see Brian Beary, “U.S. Trade Policy,” CQ Researcher, Sept. 13, 2013, pp. 765–788.

[33] Robert Kahn and Steve A. Tananbaum, “Global Economics Monthly, December 2015,” Council on Foreign Relations, Dec. 7, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/js25ufg.

[34] “Populism and Globalization Don't Mix,” New Perspectives Quarterly, Spring 2006, http://tinyurl.com/z793m9f.

[35] Andrew Jacobs, “Brazil Workers’ Party, Leaders ‘Intoxicated’ By Power, Falls From Grace,” The New York Times, May 12, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/how87cf.

[36] Jonathan Watts, “Brazil's Dilma Rousseff impeached by senate in crushing defeat,” The Guardian (U.K.), Sept. 1, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j223ejg.

[37] Benjamin Moffitt, “Populism and democracy: friend or foe? Rising stars deepen dilemma,” The Conversation, April 23, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/j3woayz.

[38] Frank Cerabino, “From well-heeled to Publix retirees, Palm Beach County shows for Trump,” Palm Beach Post, March 15, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jbyc45n.

[39] Rod Dreher, “Trump: Tribune of Poor White People,” The American Conservative, July 22, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hq6ynhp. Josh Hafner, “Donald Trump loves the ‘poorly educated’ — and they love him,” USA Today, Feb. 24, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hqk4774.

[40] Ibid., Dreher.

[41] See Chuck McCutcheon, “Young Voters,” CQ Researcher, Oct. 2, 2015, pp. 817–840.

[42] Timothy B. Lee, “Why Hillary Clinton's Flip-Flopping on Trade May Not Matter,” Vox, July 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j7gyvqf.

[43] Jamelle Bouie, “What Bernie Sanders Won,” Slate, July 11, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jyzrxjv.

[44] Mike Collins, “The Pros and Cons of Globalization,” Forbes, May 6, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/h7n4r9s.

[45] Heather Long, “U.S. Has Lost 5 Million Manufacturing Jobs Since 2000,” CNN, March 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j3yfzlu.

[46] Bob Davis and Jon Hilsenrath, “How the China Shock, Deep and Swift, Spurred the Rise of Trump,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 11, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/j27es4y.

[47] Dina Smeltz, Karl Friedhoff and Craig Kafura, “Core Sanders Supporters' Economic Pessimism Sets Them Apart From Clinton Supporters,” Chicago Council on Global Affairs, July 25, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/z2yu85j.

[48] For background see Christina L. Lyons, “Immigration,” CQ Researcher, July 28, 2016.

[49] Lauren Said-Moorhouse and Ryan Browne, “Donald Trump wants ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants. What is the US doing now?” CNN.com, Aug. 16, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zgfo5n6.

[50] Kim Hjelmgaard and Gregg Zoroya, “Exploding UK immigration helped drive ‘Brexit’ vote,” USA Today, June 28, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/h8a8vpg.

[51] “What Is Fueling Global Anti-Immigrant Populism?” The Wall Street Journal video, June 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jywa2g3.

[52] Jonathan T. Rothwell, “Explaining Nationalist Political Views: The Case of Donald Trump,” Gallup, Aug. 11, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/z4j745z.

[53] Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris, “Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash,” Harvard University, Kennedy School of Government, August 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jd5u9pe.

[54] Daniel Gros, “Is Globalization Really Fueling Populism?” Project Syndicate, May 6, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hgwbe2y.

[55] Orlando Crowcroft, “Generation Trump: How Donald Trump became the populist leader the Tea Party never had,” International Business Times, May 30, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/grcjecf.

[56] Constanze Stelzenmüller, “A Donald for all of us — how right-wing populism is upending politics on both sides of the Atlantic,” Brookings Institution, March 11, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zvyrt27.

[57] Barbie Latza Nadeau, “Europe's Secession Panic,” The Daily Beast, Sept. 18, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/my7wdmp.

[58] Padraig Reidy, “Yes, It Can Happen — Populist Conservatives Led UK Out of the European Union,” BillMoyers.com, June 24, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zjrjh69.

[59] Thomas Greven, “The Rise of Right-Wing Populism in Europe and the United States: A Comparative Perspective,” Friedrich-Ebert Siftung (Germany), May 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zoca6qj.

[60] Jacqueline S. Gehring, “Sorry Donald, Brexit is not about you (or the United States),” Western Political Science Association, New West blog, June 24, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hmxwf6n.

[61] Cas Mudde, “The Trump phenomenon and the European populist radical right,” The Washington Post, Aug. 26, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/h5fwxth.

[62] “France,” Parties and Elections in Europe, http://tinyurl.com/q2lvzjg.

[63] See Sarah Glazer, “Future of the Euro,” CQ Researcher, May 17, 2011, pp. 237–262.

[64] Gros, op. cit. See also Brian Beary, “European Unrest,” CQ Researcher, Jan. 9, 2015, pp. 25–48.

[65] Roger Pilon, “Populism: Good and Bad,” Cato Institute, Jan. 25, 2010, http://tinyurl.com/j59el34.

[66] Henry Olsen, “Populism, American Style,” National Affairs, Summer 2010, http://tinyurl.com/zqa94vh.

[67] Ibid.

[68] “Greenback movement,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://tinyurl.com/grpzo6v.

[69] “Granger movement,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://tinyurl.com/guestr3.

[70] Political Parties in America (2001), p. 69.

[71] Pilon, op. cit.; “From Populism to the Progressive Era, 1900–1912,” http://tinyurl.com/z4hsdp2.

[72] Political Parties in America, op. cit., p. 70.

[73] “The Populist Party,” Vassar College 1896 history website, http://tinyurl.com/5ddyft.

[74] “William Jennings Bryan,” History.com, http://tinyurl.com/j7yp4de. “Bryan's ‘Cross of Gold’ Speech: Mesmerizing the Masses,” History Matters.com, http://tinyurl.com/lxftvy.

[75] M. Mason Gaffney, “Henry George 100 Years Later: The Great Reconciler,” MasonGaffney.org, 1997, http://tinyurl.com/zmlsm9r; Jill Lepore, “Forget 9-9-9. Here's a Simple Plan: 1,” The New York Times, Oct. 15, 2011, http://tinyurl.com/hkrsl3v.

[76] Political Parties in America, op. cit., p. 70.

[77] Matthew Artz, “Trump, Sanders following in California populists' footsteps,” San Jose Mercury News, March 19, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/h3uv9oy.

[78] “The Radio Priest,” George Mason University Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, http://tinyurl.com/zd3zo6y. See also “New Deal Aims at the Constitution,” Editorial Research Reports (CQ Researcher), Nov. 27, 1936.

[79] “Share Our Wealth,” HueyLong.com, http://tinyurl.com/ajsvsw.

[80] Matt Farah, John H. Lawrence and Amanda McFillen, “From Winnfield to Washington: The Life and Career of Huey P. Long,” Historic New Orleans Collection, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/zdw7kpw. Huey Long — Every Man a King,” PBS.org, http://tinyurl.com/hff9hqg.

[81] “Joseph R. McCarthy,” History.com, http://tinyurl.com/o724hco; Daniel Bell, “McCarthy and Populism,” Commentary, May 1, 1983, http://tinyurl.com/j47pajv.

[82] “George C. Wallace,” Biography.com, http://tinyurl.com/haqljf7.

[83] “Richard Hofstadter,” Encylopaedia Britannica, http://tinyurl.com/z9wzokq; David Greenberg, “Richard Hofstadter's Tradition,” The Atlantic, November 1998, http://tinyurl.com/gpy9esm.

[84] Tom Hayden, “Fred Harris: A Populist With a Prayer,” Rolling Stone, May 8, 1975, http://tinyurl.com/jnrvzys.

[85] Peter Barnes, “A Populist Manifesto,” The New Republic, April 29, 1972, http://tinyurl.com/he4tu5g.

[86] “Initiative, Referendum and Recall,” National Conference of State Legislatures, Sept. 20, 2012, http://tinyurl.com/ndznq67.

[87] Kevin O'Leary, “How California's Fiscal Woes Began: A Crisis 30 Years in the Making,” Time, July 1, 2009, http://tinyurl.com/zy9rbop.

[88] Shaun Bowler, Stephen P. Nicholson and Gary M. Segura, “Earthquakes and Aftershocks: Race, Direct Democracy and Partisan Change,” American Journal of Political Science, January 2006, http://tinyurl.com/hhlggl7.

[89] Stephen E. Atkins, Encyclopedia of Right-Wing Extremism in Modern American History (2011), p. 226, http://tinyurl.com/z5cfm74.

[90] “Pat Buchanan on the Issues,” OnThe Issues.org, http://tinyurl.com/hruuvln; Steven Stark, “Right-Wing Populist,” The Atlantic, February 1996, http://tinyurl.com/h4udtwm.

[91] Sean Wilentz, “Pox Populi,” The New Republic, Aug. 9, 1993, http://tinyurl.com/z7yuecy; John Dickerson, “Donald Trump Isn't Another Ross Perot,” Slate, Sept. 9, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/pwaz84g.

[92] Josh Katz, “Can Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Nominee, Swing the Election?” The New York Times, Aug. 4, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hdxvx9d.

[93] Bill Scher, “Nader Elected Bush: Why We Shouldn't Forget,” RealClearPolitics, May 31, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/gpnfntw.

[94] Richard E. Cohen with James A. Barnes et al., The Almanac of American Politics 2016 (2015), p. 89.

[95] Geoffrey Kabaservice, “Dave Brat and the Rise of Right-Wing Populism,” Politico Magazine, June 12, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/gqylgnc.

[96] Vanessa Williamson, Theda Skocpol and John Coggin, “The Tea Party and the Remaking of American Conservativism,” American Political Science Association Perspectives on Politics 9, March 2011, http://tinyurl.com/nl2wl36, pp. 25–43.

[97] Crowcroft, op. cit.

[98] Gerald F. Seib, “The Tea Party Eyes Donald Trump — Warily,” The Wall Street Journal, May 16, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jqpec38.

[99] Ronald Brownstein, “Trump's Path Runs Through the Rust Belt,” The Atlantic, March 29, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zpcj5ws.

[100] Nicholas Confessore and Karen Yourish, “$2 Billion Worth of Free Media for Trump,” The New York Times, March 15, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jgo7tkq.

[101] Issie Lapowsky, “Trump Isn't the First Tech-Propelled Populist. But This Time's Different,” Wired, May 13, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hqj372p.

[102] See Peter Katel, “‘Occupy’ Movement,” CQ Researcher, Jan. 13, 2012, pp. 25–52.

[103] “Commercial Banks,” Center for Responsive Politics, http://tinyurl.com/jnw24j8.

[104] Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “Sanders's claim that he ‘does not have a super PAC,’” The Washington Post, Feb. 11, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/z64ddba; Tom Price, “Campaign Finance,” CQ Researcher, May 6, 2016, pp. 409–432.

[105] Cohen with Barnes, op. cit., p. 884.

[106] Kerry Picket, “Clinton Chooses Black Lives Matter Over Law Enforcement,” Daily Caller, Aug. 6, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hyw7qwx.

[107] Meghan Keneally, “Donald Trump Facing Increasing Resistance From Within Own Party,” ABC News.com, Aug. 9, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hgz84um.

[108] Eric Bradner, Elise Labott and Dana Bash, “50 GOP national security experts oppose Trump,” CNN.com, Aug. 8, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jdtr76e.

[109] Andrew Prokop, “Evan McMullin: a former GOP staffer is now running for president on an anti-Trump platform,” Vox.com , Aug. 8, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zklblss.

[110] Alex Altman, Phillip Elliott and Zeke J. Miller, “Inside Donald Trump's Meltdown,” Time, Aug. 22, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zt8ngqj.

[111] David Wasserman, “‘Missing’ White Voters Might Help Trump, But Less So Where He Needs It,” FiveThirtyEight.com , June 2, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zc6mlf5.

[112] “Help Us Put Jill Stein on the Ballot in Every State,” Jill Stein for President website, http://tinyurl.com/zar8akm; “2016 Presidential Access Ballot Map,” Libertarian Party, http://tinyurl.com/hbey84u.

[113] Harry Enten, “About A Third Of Bernie Sanders's Supporters Still Aren't Backing Hillary Clinton,” FiveThirtyEight.com , Aug. 8, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/ztu6f7a.

[114] Mike Vilensky, “Zephyr Teachout, Who Took on Cuomo, Faces Her Own Populist Rival,” The Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/h4fvkyr.

[115] Russell Berman, “Russ Feingold Wants a Rematch,” The Atlantic, May 15, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/zagwu27.

[116] “Issues,” Mark Assini for Congress, http://tinyurl.com/zgpymdk; Siobhan Hughes, “Where Donald Trump Resonates, He is Embraced Down-Ballot,” The Wall Street Journal, April 13, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/h8cdwna.

[117] “2016 Ballot Measures,” Ballotpedia.org, http://tinyurl.com/jf5aj2d.

[118] “Nevada Background Checks for Gun Purchases Initiative, Question 1 (2016),” Ballotpedia.org, http://tinyurl.com/j5e96jb.

[119] “Maine Minimum Wage Increase Initiative, Question 4 (2016),” Ballotpedia.org, http://tinyurl.com/jknsqwv; “Washington Minimum Wage Increase, Initiative 1433 (2016),” Ballotpedia.org, http://tinyurl.com/zc9y632.

[120] “North Dakota Corporate Dairy and Swine Farming Referendum, Referred Measure 1 (June 2016),” Ballotpedia.org, http://tinyurl.com/h8wvjau.

[121] Julie Bosman, “North Dakotans Reconsider a Corporate Farming Ban, and Their Virtues,” The New York Times, June 12, 2014, http://tinyurl.com/juayylh.

[122] Adair Turner, “Post-Brexit populism will not be thwarted by ignoring migration,” Australian Financial Review, July 12, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/hufa2je.

[123] Jonathan Owen, “End of the EU? Germany warns FIVE more countries could leave Europe after Brexit,” Express.com (U.K.), June 26, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zys2n92.

[124] Michael Pearson, “Scotland likely to seek independence after EU vote, first minister says,” CNN.com, June 26, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zx4h5dz.

[125] “The end of populism,” The Economist, Nov. 28, 2015, http://tinyurl.com/jntgafr.

[126] Gerald F. Seib, “Separating Donald Trump from Trumpism,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 8, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zs22j24.

[127] Laura Grattan, Populism's Power: Radical Grassroots Democracy in America (2016), pp. 4–5.

[128] Robert Reich, “Robert Reich Sees the Future: Why America's Two-Party System May Collapse,” Alternet.org, March 22, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/zoj3dww.

[129] Lee Drutman, “Donald Trump's candidacy is going to realign the political parties,” Vox.com , March 1, 2016, http://tinyurl.com/jxzk8xc.

[130] Moffitt, op. cit., p. 160.

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About the Author

Chuck McCutcheon, author of this week's edition of CQ Researcher

Chuck McCutcheon is an assistant managing editor of CQ Researcher. He has been a reporter and editor for Congressional Quarterly and Newhouse News Service and is co-author of the 2012 and 2014 editions of The Almanac of American Politics and Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang and Bluster of American Political Speech. He also has written books on climate change and nuclear waste.

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Document APA Citation
McCutcheon, C. (2016, September 9). Populism and party politics. CQ researcher, 26, 721-744. Retrieved from http://library.cqpress.com/
Document ID: cqresrre2016090900
Document URL: http://library.cqpress.com/cqresearcher/cqresrre2016090900
ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Political Parties
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Sep. 09, 2016  Populism and Party Politics
Nov. 14, 2014  Nonprofit Groups and Partisan Politics
Oct. 24, 2014  Future of the GOP
Feb. 28, 2014  Polarization in America
Mar. 19, 2010  Tea Party Movement Updated
Mar. 20, 2009  Future of the GOP
Jun. 08, 2007  Democrats in Congress
Apr. 30, 2004  The Partisan Divide
Dec. 22, 1995  Third-Party Prospects
Jan. 11, 1985  Post-1984 Political Landscape
Nov. 09, 1984  Democratic Revival in South America
Sep. 14, 1984  Election 1984
Dec. 19, 1980  Future of the Democratic Party
Sep. 29, 1978  New Right in American Politics
Jan. 04, 1974  Future of Conservatism
May 03, 1972  The New Populism
Feb. 02, 1956  Foreign Policy in Political Campaigns
Dec. 22, 1954  Divided Government
Aug. 04, 1952  Two-Party System
Jun. 06, 1952  Party Platforms
Sep. 05, 1951  Southern Democrats and the 1952 Election
Oct. 06, 1948  Voting in 1948
Aug. 27, 1948  Republicans and Foreign Policy
Jul. 16, 1947  Third Party Movements
Aug. 22, 1940  Political Realignments
Jan. 13, 1938  The G. O. P. and the Solid South
Jul. 22, 1936  Third Party Movements in American Politics
Jul. 07, 1936  The Monopoly Issue in Party Politics
Nov. 12, 1935  Party Platforms and the 1936 Campaign
May 18, 1934  Political Trends and New Party Movements
Jan. 13, 1932  National Party Platforms, 1832–1932
May 16, 1928  Third Party Movements
Jan. 21, 1928  Major Party Platforms 1924–1928
Nov. 14, 1924  The Election and the Third Party
Sep. 05, 1924  Party Claims and Past Political Complexion of the States
Jun. 25, 1924  Third Party Platforms
Jun. 18, 1924  Thrid Parties: Past and Prospective
Campaigns and Elections
Conservatism and Liberalism
General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)
Internet and Social Media
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)
Party Politics
Powers and History of the Presidency
Regional Political Affairs: East Asia and the Pacific
Regional Political Affairs: Europe
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