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Title: Populism  
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Populism is a doctrine that appeals to the interests and conceptions (such as hopes and fears) of the general population, especially when contrasting any new collective consciousness push against the prevailing status quo interests of any predominant political sector. Populism is commonly defined as: "the political doctrine that supports the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite."[1] Since the 1980s, populist movements and parties have enjoyed degrees of success in First World democracies such as Canada, Italy, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the Nordic countries.

Political parties and politicians often use the terms populist and populism as pejoratives against their opponents. Such a view sees populism as merely empathising with the public, (usually through rhetoric or "unrealistic" proposals) in order to increase appeal across the political spectrum (cf. demagogy).[2]


  • Academic definitions 1
    • Agrarian 1.1
    • Political 1.2
  • Fascism and populism 2
  • History in Europe 3
    • Classical populism 3.1
    • Early modern period 3.2
  • Latin America 4
    • Inequality 4.1
    • US policy 4.2
    • Populist socialism 4.3
  • Mexico 5
  • Canada 6
  • United States 7
  • Germany 8
  • France 9
  • Italy 10
  • See also 11
  • Footnotes 12
  • References 13
    • Europe 13.1
    • United States 13.2
  • External links 14

Academic definitions

Academic definitions of populism have varied widely over the centuries, and the term has often been employed in loose and inconsistent ways to denote appeals to "the people", "demagogy" and "catch-all" politics or as a label for new types of parties whose classifications are unclear. A factor traditionally held to diminish the value of "populism" as a category has been that, as Margaret Canovan notes in her 1981 study Populism, unlike conservatives or socialists, populists rarely call themselves "populists" and usually reject the term when it is applied to them.[3]

Nonetheless, in recent years academic scholars have produced definitions of populism which enable populist identification and comparison. Daniele Albertazzi and Duncan McDonnell define populism as an ideology that "pits a virtuous and homogeneous people against a set of elites and dangerous ‘others’ who are together depicted as depriving (or attempting to deprive) the sovereign people of their rights, values, prosperity, identity, and voice".[4]

Rather than viewing populism in terms of specific social bases, economic programs, issues, or electorates — as discussions of right-wing populism have tended to do[5] — this type of definition is in line with the approaches of scholars such as Ernesto Laclau,[6] Pierre-Andre Taguieff,[7] Yves Meny and Yves Surel,[8] who have all sought to focus on populism per se, rather than treating it simply as an appendage of other ideologies.

Although in the US and Europe, it currently tends to be associated with right-wing parties, the central tenet of populism that democracy should reflect the pure and undiluted will of the people, means it can sit easily with ideologies of both Right-wing politics and Left-wing politics. However, while leaders of populist movements in recent decades have claimed to be on either the left or the right of the political spectrum, there are also many populists who reject such classifications and claim not to be "left wing", "centrist" or "right wing."[9][10][11]

Although "populist" is often used pejoratively in the media and in political debate, exceptions to this do exist, notably in the United States. In this case, it appears likely that this is due to the memories and traditions of earlier democratic movements (for example, farmers' movements, New Deal reform movements, and the civil rights movement) that were often called populist, by supporters and outsiders alike.[12]

Some scholars argue that populist organizing for empowerment represents the return of older "Aristotelian" politics of horizontal interactions among equals who are different, for the sake of public problem solving.[13][14] Populism has taken left-wing, right-wing, and even centrist[15] forms, as well as forms of politics that bring together groups and individuals of diverse partisan views.[16] The use of populist rhetoric in the United States has recently included references such as "the powerful trial lawyer lobby",[17][18] "the liberal elite", or "the Hollywood elite".[19] Examples of populist rhetoric on the other side of the political spectrum is the anti-corporate greed views of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the theme of "Two Americas" in the 2004 Presidential Democratic Party campaign of John Edwards.

Populists are seen by some politicians as a largely democratic and positive force in society, while a wing of scholarship in political science contends that populist mass movements are irrational and introduce instability into the political process. Margaret Canovan argues that both these polar views are faulty, and has defined two main branches of modern populism worldwide—agrarian and political—and mapped out seven disparate sub-categories:


  • Commodity farmer movements with radical economic agendas such as the US People's Party of the late 19th century.
  • Subsistence peasant movements, such as the Eastern European Green Rising militias, which followed World War I.
  • Intellectuals who romanticize hard-working farmers and peasants and build radical agrarian movements like the Russian narodniki.


  • Populist democracy, including calls for more political participation through reforms such as the use of popular referenda.
  • Politicians' populism marked by non-ideological appeals for "the people" to build a unified coalition.
  • George Wallace.
  • Populist dictatorship, such as that established by Getúlio Vargas in Brazil.[20]

Fascism and populism

Scholars have argued that populist elements have sometimes appeared in authoritarian or fascist movements.[21][22][23][24][25][26] Conspiracist scapegoating employed by various populist movements can create "a seedbed for fascism."[27] National socialist populism interacted with and facilitated fascism in interwar Germany.[28] In this case, distressed middle–class populists during the pre-Nazi Weimar period mobilized their anger at government and big business. The Nazis "parasitized the forms and themes of the populists and moved their constituencies far to the right through ideological appeals involving demagoguery, scapegoating, and conspiracism."[29] According to Fritzsche:

The Nazis expressed the populist yearnings of middle–class constituents and at the same time advocated a strong and resolutely anti-Marxist mobilization....Against "unnaturally" divisive parties and querulous organized interest groups, National Socialists cast themselves as representatives of the commonwealth, of an allegedly betrayed and neglected German public....Breaking social barriers of status and caste, and celebrating at least rhetorically the populist ideal of the people's community...[30]

In Argentina in the 1940s, a local brand of authoritarian populism emerged known as Peronism, after its leader Juan Perón. It emerged from an intellectual authoritarian movement in the 1920s and 1930s that delegitimized democracy.[31]

History in Europe

Classical populism

The word populism is derived from the Latin word populus, which means people in English (in the sense of "folk", "nation", as in: "The Roman People" (populus Romanus), not in the sense of "multiple individual persons" as in: "There are people visiting us today"). Therefore, populism espouses government by the people as a whole (that is to say, the masses). This is in contrast to aristocracy, synarchy or plutocracy, each of which is an ideology that espouse government by a small, privileged group above the masses.

Populism has been a common political phenomenon throughout history. The Populares were an unofficial faction in the Roman senate whose supporters were known for their populist agenda. They tried to rule by mobilizing masses of Romans. Some of the best known of these were Tiberius Gracchus, Gaius Marius, Julius Caesar and Caesar Augustus, all of whom eventually used referenda to bypass the Roman Senate and appeal to the people directly.[32]

Early modern period

Populism rose during the Reformation; Protestant groups like the Anabaptists formed ideas about ideal theocratic societies, in which peasants would be able to read the Bible themselves. Attempts to establish these societies were made during the German Peasants' War (1524–1525) and the Münster Rebellion (1534–1535). The peasant movement ultimately failed as cities and nobles made their own peace with the princely armies, which restored the old order under the nominal overlordship of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, represented in German affairs by his younger brother Ferdinand.[33]

The same conditions contributed to the outbreak of the English Revolution of 1642–1651, also known as the English Civil War. Conditions led to a proliferation of ideologies and political movements among peasants, self-employed artisans, and working-class people in England. Many of these groups had a dogmatic Protestant religious bent. They included Puritans and the Levellers.[34]

Latin America

Populism has been an important force in Latin American political history, where many

  • Populism and Neo-populism in Latin America, especially Mexico
  • The Return of Populism
  • Right-Wing populist resources
  • Study of populism that discusses Canovan
  • Official site of Seattle's Poet Populist contest
  • 2007 University of Michigan 7th annual Dewey lecture, on populism as a politics of civic agency and popular empowerment
  • Populist themes in 2008 US elections
  • Mainstream Populist Democrats
  • American Populist Party

External links

  • Albertazzi, Daniele and Duncan McDonnell. 2008. Twenty-First Century Populism: The Spectre of Western European Democracy Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 0-230-01349-X ISBN 978-0230013490
  • Berlet, Chip. 2005. "When Alienation Turns Right: Populist Conspiracism, the Apocalyptic Style, and Neofascist Movements." In Lauren Langman & Devorah Kalekin Fishman, (eds.), Trauma, Promise, and the Millennium: The Evolution of Alienation. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.
  • Boggs, Carl. 1986. Social Movements and Political Power: Emerging Forms of Radicalism in the West. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Boyte, Harry C. 2004. Everyday Politics: Reconnecting Citizens and Public Life. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
  • Brass, Tom. 2000. Peasants, Populism and Postmodernism: The Return of the Agrarian Myth London: Frank Cass Publishers.
  • Caiani, Manuela. "Populism/Populist Movements." in The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Social and Political Movements (2013).
  • Coles, Rom. 2006. "Of Tensions and Tricksters: Grassroots Democracy Between Theory and Practice", Perspectives on Politics Vol. 4:3 (Fall), pp. 547–561
  • Canovan, Margaret. 1981. Populism. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. ISBN 0-15-173078-4
  • Denning, Michael.1997. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. London: Verso.
  • Emibayer, Mustafa and Ann Mishe. 1998."What is Agency?" American Journal of Sociology Vol. 103:4, pp. 962–1023
  • Grieder, William. 1993. Who Will Tell the People: The Betrayal of American Democracy. Simon % Schuster.
  • Hedges, Chris. 2010. Death of the Liberal Class. New York: Nation Books.
  • Khoros, Vladim1r. 1984. Populism: Its Past, Present and Future. Moscow: Progress Publishers.
  • Kling, Joseph M. and Prudence S. Posner. 1990. Dilemmas of Activism. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Laclau, Ernesto. 1977. Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism. London: NLB/Atlantic Highlands Humanities Press.
  • Laclau, Ernesto. 2005. On Populist Reason. London: Verso
  • Miscoiu, Sergiu, Craciun, Oana, Colopelnic, Nicoleta. 2008. Radicalism, Populism, Interventionism. Three Approaches Based on Discourse Theory. Cluj-Napoca: Efes
  • Mișcoiu, Sergiu. Au pouvoir par le Peuple! Le populisme saisi par la théorie du discours. L'Harmattan. 2012
  • Rupert, Mark. 1997. "Globalization and the Reconstruction of Common Sense in the US." In Innovation and Transformation in International Studies, S. Gill and J. Mittelman, eds. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Taggart, Paul. 2000. Populism. Buckingham: Open University Press. ISBN 0-335-20045-1.


  • Betz, Hans-Georg. 1994. Radical Right-wing Populism in Western Europe, New York: St. Martins Press. ISBN 0-312-08390-4, ISBN 0-312-12195-4
  • Fritzsche, Peter. 1990. Rehearsals for Fascism: Populism and Political Mobilization in Weimar Germany. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-505780-5
  • De Blasio, Emiliana, Hibberd, Matthew and Sorice, Michele. 2011. Popular politics, populism and the leaders. Access without participation? The cases of Italy and UK. Roma: CMCS-LUISS University. ISBN 978-88-6536-021-7
  • Fritzsche, Peter. 1998. Germans into Nazis. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
  • Hartleb, Florian 2011: After their establishment: Right-wing Populist Parties in Europe, Centre for European Studies/Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, Brüssel, (download:
  • Rizova, Tatiana P. "The Perils of Populist Radical Right Parties: The Case of the Bulgarian Attack Party." Journal of Politics and Law (2013) 6#4 pp: 160+ online
  • Southwell, Priscilla, and Eric Lindgren. "The Rise of Neo-Populist Parties in Scandinavia: A Danish Case Study." Review of European Studies (2013) 5#5 online
  • Wodak, Ruth, Majid KhosraviNik, and Brigitte Mral. "Right-wing populism in Europe." Politics and discourse (2013). online

United States

  • Agarwal, Sheetal D., et al. "Grassroots organizing in the digital age: considering values and technology in Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street." Information, Communication & Society (2014) 17#3 pp: 326-341.
  • Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-568-1, ISBN 1-57230-562-2
  • Dobratz, Betty A, and Stephanie L. Shanks–Meile. 1988. "The Contemporary Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party: A Comparison to American Populism at the Turn of the Century." Humanity & Society, 20–50.
  • Evans, Sara M. and Harry C. Boyte. 1986. Free Spaces: The Sources of Democratic Change in America. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Ferkiss, Victor C. 1957. "Populist Influences on American Fascism." Western Political Quarterly 10(2):350–73.
  • Goodwyn, Lawrence. 1976. Democratic Promise: The Populist Moment in America. New York and London: Oxford University Press.; abridged as The Populist Moment: A Short History of the Agrarian Revolt in America. (Oxford University Press, 1978)
  • Hahn, Steven. 1983. Roots of Southern Populism: Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, 1850–1890. New York and London: Oxford University Press
  • Hofstadter, Richard. 1955. The Age of Reform: from Bryan to F.D.R. New York: Knopf.
  • Hofstadter, Richard. 1965. The Paranoid Style in American Politics, and Other Essays. New York: Knopf.
  • Jeffrey, Julie Roy.1975. "Women in the Southern Farmers Alliance: A Reconsideration of the Role and Status of Women in the Late 19th Century South." Feminist Studies 3.
  • Kazin, Michael. 1995. The Populist Persuasion: An American History. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-03793-3, ISBN 0-8014-8558-4
  • ; 200+ articles in 901pp
  • Maier, Chris. "The Farmers' Fight for Representation: Third-Party Politics in South Dakota, 1889–1918." Great Plains Quarterly (2014) 34#2 pp: 143-162.
  • Marable, Manning. 1986. "Black History and the Vision of Democracy", in Harry Boyte and Frank Riessman, Eds., The New Populism: The Politics of Empowerment. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  • Palmer, Bruce. 1980. Man Over Money: The Southern Populist Critique of American Capitalism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.
  • Rasmussen, Scott, and Doug Schoen. (2010) Mad as hell: How the Tea Party movement is fundamentally remaking our two-party system (HarperCollins, 2010)
  • Stock, Catherine McNicol. 1996. Rural Radicals: Righteous Rage in the American Grain. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press. ISBN 0-8014-3294-4


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  45. ^ Francisco Weffort, O populismo na política brasileira. Rio de Janeiro:Paz e Terra, 1978, page 43.
  46. ^ Stephen G. Rabe, The most dangerous area in the world: John F. Kennedy confronts Communist Revolution in Latin America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8078-4764-X, page 66
  47. ^ John D. French, The Brazilian workers' ABC: class conflict and alliances in modern São Paulo, page 262
  48. ^ Mary P. Lassiter,ed., Economics, politics and social issues in Latin America. New York: Nova Science Publishers, 2007, ISBN 978-1-60021-182-9, page 25
  49. ^ Thomas E. Skidmore, The Politics of Military Rule in Brazil, 1964–1985. New York: Oxford University Press US, 1989, ISBN 0-19-506316-3, page 265
  50. ^ Jolle Demmers, Alex E. Fernández Jilberto, Barbara Hogenboom, eds. Miraculous metamorphoses: the neoliberalization of Latin American populism. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2001, ISBN 1-85649-887-5, page 11
  51. ^ Kirk Andrew Hawkins, Venezuela's Chavismo and Populism in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-76503-9, page 51
  52. ^ a b Héctor E. Schamis – Populism, socialism and democratic institutions
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  57. ^ Rüdiger Dornbusch & Sebastian Edwards, eds. The Macroeconomics of populism in Latin America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1991, ISBN 0-226-15844-6, page 16
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  60. ^ Jeffery R Webber,"Venezuela under Chávez: The Prospects and Limitations of Twenty-First Century Socialism, 1999–2009", Études socialistes, Vol 6, No 1 (2010)
  61. ^ January 24, 2007: Mexican Political Polarization Limited to Elites Despite Contested Election, APSA Press Release
  62. ^ Dornbusch & Edwards, The Macroeconomics of populism in Latin America, page 1
  64. ^ Elizabeth Montes Garcés, ed., Relocating identities in Latin American cultures. Calgary: University of Calgary Press, 2007, ISBN 978-1-55238-209-7, page 74
  66. ^ The Impact of "Populism" on Social, Political, and Economic Development in the Hemisphere, Vladimir Torres
  67. ^ James M. Malloy, ed. Authoritarianism and corporatism in Latin America. University of Pittsburgh Press, 1977, ISBN 0-8229-5275-0, page 11
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  70. ^ Robert C. Neville, ed., The human condition. Albany: SUNY Press, 2002, ISBN 0-7914-5346-4, page 25
  71. ^ Kirk Andrew Hawkins, Venezuela's Chavismo and Populism in Comparative Perspective. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-521-76503-9, page 84
  72. ^ Steve Ellner & Daniel Hellinger, eds., Venezuelan politics in the Chávez era: class, polarization, and conflict. Boulder: Lyne Rienner, 2003, ISBN 1-58826-297-9, page 67
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  76. ^ Scott Mainwaring &Timothy Scully, eds., Democratic Governance in Latin America. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-8047-6084-3, page 254
  77. ^ Patricio Navia and Ignacio Walker, Chapter 8, Political Institutions, Populism, and Democracy in Latin America, in Scott and Timothy R. Scully (ed), Democratic Governance in Latin America, Stanford University Press, 2008, pp. 2 – 3
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  109. ^ "We appeal to the instincts of people. We are populists for real. There is nothing to be ashamed of" Grillo, confessione a eletti M5S: ‘Finzione politica l’impeachment di Napolitano’ Il Fatto Quotidiano, October 30, 2013
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See also

In 2009 Beppe Grillo, a former comedian, blogger and activist, founded the Five Star Movement. It advocates direct democracy, free access to the Internet, and condemns corruption. The M5S's programme also contains elements of right-wing populism and American-style libertarianism. The party is considered populist, ecologist, and partially Eurosceptic.[108] Grillo himself described the Five Star Movement as being populist in nature during a political meeting he held in Rome on October 30, 2013.[109] In 2013 Italian election the Five Star Movement gained 25.5% of votes, with 109 deputies and 54 senators, becoming the main populist and Eurosceptic party in the European Union.[110]

Another Italian populist party is the Lega Nord,[106] founded in 1991 as a federation of several regional parties of northern (and central-northern) Italy, most of which had sprung up and expanded their share of the electorate during the 1980s. Lega Nord was the principal ally of Berlusconi's parties including, most recently, People of Freedom. The Lega Nord's political program advocates the transformation of Italy into a federal state, fiscal federalism and greater regional autonomy, especially for the Northern regions. At times it has advocated the secession of the North, which it calls Padania. The Lega Nord also fights for the implementation of stricter rules and laws in order to contrast the expansion of Islam into Europe. It is opposed to Turkish membership of the European Union and is considered one of the eurosceptic movements. It also emphasizes the fight against illegal immigration. Lega Nord's best electoral result has been in 1996 general election, where it gained the 10.8% of votes. In the 2008 election Lega supported Berlusconi's right-wing coalition, helping him win, having gained 8.3% of votes, 60 deputies and 26 senators.[107]

An example of modern populism can be studied in current Italian politics. When Silvio Berlusconi entered in politics in 1994 with his new party Forza Italia, he created a new kind of populism focused on media control.[104] Berlusconi and his allies won three elections, in 1994, 2001 and, with his new right-wing People of Freedom party, in 2008; he was Prime Minister of Italy for almost ten years.[105]

Silvio Berlusconi, leader of Forza Italia and Prime Minister of Italy for almost ten years.


In the 1950s, Pierre Poujade was the leader of the right-wing populist movement Union de Defense Commercants et Artisans (UDCA).[101] Jean Marie Le Pen (who was UDCA's youngest deputy in the 1950s)[102] can be characterized as right-wing populist[103] or extreme-right populist.[102] The French National Front is one of the more successful populist parties in Europe.

In France, the populist and nationalist picture was more mystical, metaphysical and literarian in nature.[99] Historian Jules Michelet (sometimes called a populist[100]) fused nationalism and populism by positing the people as a mystical unity who are the driving force of history in which the divinity finds its purpose.[98] Michelet viewed history as a representation of the struggle between spirit and matter; he claims France has a special place because the French became a people through equality, liberty, and fraternity. Because of this, he believed, the French people can never be wrong. Michelet's ideas are not socialism or rational politics, and his populism always minimizes, or even masks, social class differences.

In the late 18th century, the French Revolution, though led by wealthy intellectuals, could also be described as a manifestation of populist sentiment against the elitist excesses and privileges of the Ancien Régime.[98]


The Nazis expressed the populist yearnings of middle–class constituents and at the same time advocated a strong and resolutely anti-Marxist mobilization.... Against "unnaturally" divisive parties and querulous organized interest groups, National Socialists cast themselves as representatives of the commonwealth, of an allegedly betrayed and neglected German public....[b]reaking social barriers of status and caste, and celebrating at least rhetorically the populist ideal of the people's community...[30]

Friedrich Ludwig Jahn, a Lutheran Minister, a professor at the University of Berlin and the "father of gymnastics", introduced the concept of Volkstum, a racial notion that draws on the essence of a people that was lost in the Industrial Revolution. Adam Mueller went a step further by positing the state as a bigger totality than the government institution. This paternalistic vision of aristocracy concerned with social orders had a dark side in that the opposite force of modernity was represented by the Jews, who were said to be eating away at the state.[96] Populism also played a role in mobilizing middle class support for the Nazi Party in Weimar Germany.[97] In this case, distressed middle–class populists during the pre-Nazi Weimar period mobilized their anger at government and big business. According to Fritzsche:


In the most recent example of populist movements, participants of the Occupy movement chose the slogan "We are the 99%". The Occupy leadership used the phrase "the 1%" to refer to the 1% of Americans who are most wealthy. The Occupy movement believed that the 1% was creating economic instability and undermining the social safety nets implemented during the New Deal. Political science professors Joe Lowndes and Dorian Warren were among those to pose the question, "Is Occupy Wall Street a Populist Movement?". They both concluded that it was the "first major populist movement on the U.S. left since the 1930s."[94][95]

In upstate New York, Carl Paladino and his conservative-populist Taxpayers Party of New York have used the motto "Paladino for the People" and have attempted to woo common people to vote for them by pitting them against the state government and the special interests that have influence in it.[93]

The Tea Party's name, large outdoor rallies, populist rhetoric, and use of patriotic symbols (notably, the 'Don't Tread On Me' Gadsden Flag, which emerged as the movement's standard) tapped into the historical legacy of the Antifederalist movement of the 1780s.[92]

From its beginnings in early 2009, the Tea Party movement has used populist rhetoric, particularly in areas and states where Democrats are in power. Boyer et al. states:

Populism continues to be a force in modern U.S. politics, especially in the 1992 and 1996 elections. The media have identified numerous populist candidates in recent years.[90] The third-party presidential campaigns of billionaire Ross Perot, the 1996, 2000, 2004, and the 2008 presidential campaigns of Ralph Nader had a strong populist cast. The 2004 and 2008 Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has been described by many[91] (and by himself) as a "one economic community, one commonwealth"[91] populist.

Governor of Alabama, led a populist movement that carried five states and won 13.5% of the popular vote in the 1968 presidential election. Campaigning against intellectuals and liberal reformers, Wallace gained a large share of the white working class vote in Democratic primaries in 1972.[88][89]

Other early populist political parties in the United States included the Greenback Party, the Progressive Party of 1912 led by Theodore Roosevelt, the Progressive Party of 1924 led by Robert M. La Follette, Sr., and the Share Our Wealth movement of Huey Long in 1933–35.[86][87]

There have been several versions of a populist party in the United States, some inspired by the Populist Party of the 1890s. This was the party of the early U.S. populist movement in which millions of farmers and other working people successfully enacted their anti-trust agenda.[85]

Populist sentiment contributed to the American Revolutionary War, and continued to shape the young United States afterward.[84]

Governor of Alabama and founder of the American Independent Party.

United States

Populist political ideology in Canada has been a strong phenomenon in Western Canada and Quebec as promoted by provincial Social Credit parties in the western provinces and Quebec, and in federal politics as promoted by the Social Credit Party of Canada and the Reform Party of Canada.


During the immediate aftermath of the tight elections in which the country's electoral court was hearing challenges to the vote tally that had Calderon winning, López Obrador showed the considerable influence over the masses that are a trademark of populist politicians. He effectively led huge demonstrations, filling the central plaza with masses of sympathizers who supported his challenge. The demonstrations lasted for several months and eventually dissipated after the electoral court did not find sufficient cause from the challenges presented to overturn the results.[82][83]

The ruling party in Mexico, the National Action Party (PAN), portrayed him as a danger to Mexico's hard-earned economic stability. In criticizing his redistributive promises that would create new entitlement programs somewhat similar to social security in the US (though not as broad in scope) and his trade policies that would not fully uphold prior agreements (such as NAFTA), the economic debate between capitalists and socialists became a major part of the debate. Felipe Calderón, the PAN candidate, portrayed himself as not just a standard-bearer for recent economic policy, but as a more proactive candidate, to distance himself from the main criticisms of his predecessor Vicente Fox regarding inaction. He labeled himself the "jobs president" and promised greater national wealth for all through steady future growth, fiscal prudence, international trade, and balanced government spending.

In Mexico, Andres Manuel López Obrador's candidacy sparked very emotional debates throughout the country regarding policies that affect ideology, class, equality, wealth, and society. Andres Manuel López Obrador's most controversial economic policies included his promise to expand monthly stipends to the poor and elderly from Mexico City to the rest of the country and to re-negotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to protect the Mexican poor.


Countries in Latin America with high rates of poverty, whose governments maintain and support unpopular privatizations and more orthodox economic policies that don't deliver general societal gains, will be under pressure from populist politicians and movements[77] accusing them of benefiting the upper and upper-middle classes[78][79] and of being allied to foreign and business interests.[80][81]

As populist tradition ascertains the paramountcy of the "people" (instead of class) as a political subject,[74] it suffices to say that, in the 21st century, the large numbers of voters living in extreme poverty in Latin America has remained a bastion of support for new populist candidates. By early 2008 governments with varying forms of populism and with some form of left leaning (albeit vague)Nationalist Democratic Action and the Paraguayan Colorado Party.[75]

Populism has remained a significant force in Latin America. Populism has recently been reappearing on the left with promises of far-reaching socialist changes as seen in Venezuela under Hugo Chávez, and in Bolivia under Evo Morales- a process, however, seen by some as contradictory as it tries to meld the populist traditional celebration of folk wisdom and charismatic leadership with doctrinaire socialism.[71] And, in fact, "socialist" changes in today's Venezuela have mostly included the expenditure of oil revenue to benefit the working poor as a form of social welfare to help enable an eventual (and imprecise) socialist transformation. For some authors, as far as ideology is concerned, Chávez's political blueprint is more of a "throwback" to traditional populist nationalism and redistributivism.[72] The Venezuelan government often spars verbally with the United States and accuses it of attempting to overthrow Chavez after supporting a failed coup against him. Chavez had been one of the most outspoken and blunt critics of U.S. foreign policy. Nevertheless, a large commodity trade continues between Venezuela and the U.S. because of the economic constraints of oil delivery and the proximity of the two countries.[73]

Hugo Chavez, founder of the PSUV and former President of Venezuela.

Populist socialism

[70] including [67] Since one of the ideological hallmarks of Latin American populism was the empowerment of the national and its identification with the state,

US policy

Populism in Latin American countries has both an economic and an ideological edge. Populism in Latin America has mostly addressed the problem, not of capitalist economic development as such but its inclusiveness,[62] in the backdrop of highly unequal societies in which people are divided between a relative few wealthy groups and masses of poor, even in the case of societies such as Argentina, where strong and educated middle classes are a significant segment of the population.[63] Therefore, the key role of the State in Latin American populism, as an institution, is to mediate between traditional elites and the "people" in general.[64] In appealing to the masses of poor people prior to gaining power, populists may promise widely-demanded food, housing, employment, basic social services, and income redistribution. Once in political power, they may not always be financially or politically able to fulfill all these promises. However, they are very often successful in providing many broad and basic services.[65][66]


When populists take strong positions on economic philosophies such as capitalism versus socialism, the position sparks strong emotional responses regarding how best to manage the nation's current and future social and economic position. Mexico's 2006 Presidential election was hotly debated among supporters and opponents of populist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador.[61]

Often adapting a nationalist vocabulary and rhetorically convincing manner, populism was used to appeal to broad masses while remaining ideologically ambivalent. Notwithstanding, there have been notable exceptions. 21st-century Latin-American populist leaders have had a decidedly—even if mostly rhetorical[60]—socialist bent.[52][53]

In some countries, Populism has been fiscally supported in Latin America during periods of growth such as the 1950s and 1960s and during commodity price booms such as in oil and precious metals. Political leaders could gather followers among the popular classes with broad redistributive programs during these boom times. Conversely, in others countries, Populism has been historically associated with countering the relative decline of export agriculture with deficit spending and import-substitution policies aimed at developing an internal market for industrial consumer goods.[56] Populism in Latin America has been sometimes criticized for the fiscal policies of many of its leaders, but has also been defended for having allowed historically weak states to alleviate disorder and achieve a tolerable degree of stability while initiating large-scale industrialization. Though populist fiscal and monetary policies may be criticized by conservative economic historians and policy makers, who see in it the ultimately dysfunctional subordination of economic policy to political goals,[57] some authors acknowledge populism to have allowed non-radical leaders and parties to co-opt the radical ideas of the masses so as to redirect them in a non revolutionary direction.[58] It's generally regarded that populists hope "to reform the system, not to overthrow it".[59]

If "left", reformist and nationalist populism never died out altogether during the 1970s Latin American military dictatorships—as offered proof by the prompt and successful return of a populist like Brazil's Leonel Brizola to electoral politics in the early 1980s[49]—a different streak of populism appeared in the post-military dictatorship era. This 1980s populism, in the persons of leaders like Argentina's Carlos Menem or Brazil's Fernando Collor, adapted itself to prevailing neoliberal policies of economic adjustment, setting aside nationalistic reforms and retaining the need for charismatic leadership policies, mass support and a concern for the plight of the "common people".[50] In the 1990s and 2000s, with the emergence of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela—albeit Chavez refuses himself to be labelled as "populist"[51]—reformist and nationalism Latin American populism has resurfaced with new patterns, as what is called by some authors socialist populism[52][53] that appeals to masses of poor by promising redistributive policies[53] and state control of the nation's energy resources.[54]—a blueprint that had already appeared, however—albeit with no openly "socialist" rhetoric, viz., in the nationalist policies—including the launch of the State-owned oil-company Petrobrás—that were the hallmark of Vargas' second term as Brazil's democratically elected president (1951–1954) and that led to his eventual suicide.[55]

[48] Consequently, populism was eventually identified by the 1970s military dictatorships as "demagogery" and as a risk to the stability of the existing social order.[47] The fact that Goulart was eventually ousted by the military shows that, in the views of some authors, other populist leaders of the time faced a jeopardy: they were reformists who, in the pursuit of their agenda, had to encourage popular mobilization and class conflict they ultimately abhorred.[46] Despite efforts to charter an ideological pedigree to Populism in Latin America, as has been attempted by some, working, e.g., with concepts taken from

[40] ascertain was accepted by the newly urbanized working class given their lack of a previously developed class consciousness.Francisco Weffort a co-opting process some Marxist authors like Brazil's [39] in a process of controlled inclusion of the "masses" into the political system,[38]

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