New Populism (I)
Written by Alfonso Elizondo
Populism is in fashion. In different parts of the world leaders have emerged who make radical statements and who are assumed to be representatives of the ‘people’ and claim to be fighting against the elites who are against national interests.
Populism is not like socialism or liberalism, which are ideologies defined by a clear set of values that are defended by those who identify with them. The fact is that nobody admits to being a populist and very few understand what it is, although it is part of everyday discourse.
In fact, rather than an ideology, populism is a way of structuring a political narrative and exercising power. It is full of diverse elements, some of which are as incompatible as the ideas of the left and those of the right.
It could be said that populism is a way of seeing and doing politics that portrays society as an entity divided into two groups: ‘the people’, whose will must be respected and ‘an elite’ which disregards that popular will and oppresses the people and therefore have to be fought.
Benjamin Krämer of the University of Munich’s Department of Communication Science and Media Research says that populists claim to understand and represent the will of the vast majority of the population.
To shed light on this social phenomenon, the British newspaper, The Guardian, commissioned a team of political scientists led by Professor Kirk Hawkins of Brigham Young University and they created an index of populist rhetoric. These scholars examined several speeches by 140 political leaders who have ruled in 40 countries over the past 20 years, and classified them on a scale of 0 for non-populist and 2 for very populist.
One of the findings was that with 1.9 points Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela between 1999 and 2013, was the president with the most highly populist discourse during that period and in second place was his successor, Nicolás Maduro, with 1.6 points. In third place are Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Turkey’s Recep Erdogan.
Not surprisingly, Angela Merkel has had an index of zero since 2005, but it is striking that other leaders of the new populism, such as Trump and Bolsonaro, are rated ‘somewhat populist’ with 0.5 and 0.8 points respectively.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about this study is that it provides solid evidence of the growth of populism in recent years. It scored 0.2 in 2000 and now it is 0.4 in all civilized countries.