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Supply and demand: identifying populist parties in Europe and explaining their electoral performance

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posted on 2023-06-07, 16:17 authored by Stijn Theodoor van Kessel
The past decades have witnessed a surge in the scholarly use of the concept „populism?, especially where the European context is concerned. Populism is a problematic concept, however, as it is often ill-defined and haphazardly applied. The surge of populism is, nevertheless, important as it is considered to be an indicator for the state of representative democracy. This study has two main aims. The first is to relate the concept populism to political parties and to identify the populist parties that have recently managed to enter parliament in 31 European countries. In the European context, populism has predominantly been associated with extreme or radical right parties. This study broadens the scope by also considering populist parties that are not typical examples of this type of party. This dissertation further contributes to the scholarly literature by moving beyond Western Europe and studying populist parties across the whole of Europe. An important lesson of this dissertation is that scholars should be very careful when applying the concept populism to political parties to prevent further concept-stretching. The second aim of the study is to explain the electoral performance of populist parties in Europe. A relatively novel technique, Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), is applied. This method is particularly geared at demonstrating causal complexity. The results of this analysis are triangulated with three in-depth qualitative case studies of populist parties in three countries: The Netherlands, Poland and the United Kingdom. The study explicitly focuses on the agency of political parties and the credibility of populist parties in particular. In addition to the presence of a conducive environment, this turns out to be a crucial factor in explaining the electoral performance of populist parties. Further comparative research should, therefore, not refrain from taking the agency of populist parties themselves into account.


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