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Yet, it is a slippery concept that is too often used pejoratively to describe politics that those in the mainstream do not like. This report is the beginning of a series on populists in power that seeks to build a systematic understanding of the long-term effects of populism on politics, economics and international affairs. Understanding populism—and its effects—is central to combating its appeal. To build this understanding across a wide range of social, economic and political contexts, a global accounting is needed of when and where populists have been in power.

To do so, we have built the first global database of populists in power.

This series begins from the understanding that populism often arises from serious and legitimate concerns about the quality of institutions and political representation in countries. Thus, a global accounting of populists in power is by no means an accounting of bad leaders. Populism can also arise in contexts of profound economic failures, where economic systems do require disruptive transformation to deliver broad-based growth.

It is often lamented that populism threatens to destroy independent and objective institutions that are essential to well-functioning democracies. Yet all too often, by the time populism arises, these institutions—like the media, the judiciary and independent governmental agencies—have long not been working as promised. Populists break onto the scene by pointing to these flaws in the established political system—flaws that mainstream parties may have been sweeping under the carpet for years—and promising far-reaching solutions.

Raising political questions that have been too long depoliticised and promising institutional reforms are necessary and important initiatives that political leaders should undertake. The problem with populists is that they raise these issues as a means of riling their base and dividing societies. The solutions they promise, however, are fantasies, characterised by vague ideas and unfulfillable promises. Moving towards a systematic understanding of populism requires laying aside questions of whether populism itself is good or bad, and instead examining where it exists and what range of political, social and economic outcomes have been associated with it across different contexts.

A cursory glance at populists around the world reveals that these outcomes are highly varied. Some populists rise to power in countries with long histories of social exclusion and use their popular appeal—and a strongman governing style—to point the way to more inclusive societies.

Others rise to power and dismantle democratic checks and balances and ruthlessly subjugate any opposition from the get-go. Others still thwart independent institutions and democratic processes but deliver economic growth. These outcomes—and how and why countries get there—are the subjects of subsequent publications in this series. This first report has a more modest goal: to define populism from a global perspective and identify some of its key trends since Only with a clear and systematic understanding of the phenomenon can political leaders begin to offer meaningful and credible alternatives to populism.

Reaching this clear and systematic understanding, however, is easier said than done. Even among the community of populism experts, there are disagreements about how to define populism and which actors qualify as populists. This report puts forward a simple definition of populism and relies on a wealth of academic and expert knowledge to identify cases of populism around the world, seeking to cover those cases on which there is the most consensus.

Yet, any effort that did not acknowledge significant difficulty and uncertainty in such an endeavour would be insincere. Rather than seeing politics as a battleground between different policy positions, populists attribute a singular common good to the people: a policy goal that cannot be debated based on evidence but that derives from the common sense of the people.

This common good, populists argue, should be the aim of politics. Anti-establishment politics is thus a core characteristic of populism. Therefore, populism emphasises a direct connection with its supporters, unmediated by political parties, civil-society groups or the media. Beyond these two unifying claims, populists vary substantially in how they define the essential social conflict.

It is easy to see why populism and nativism are so often confounded: in Europe, most populist parties 74 out of are nativist as well as populist. Yet seen globally, populism does not always rely on cultural appeals. Populism can also be based on socio-economic arguments, which seek to divide citizens according to economic classes rather than culture, or on standard anti-establishment appeals, which emphasise purging bureaucracies of anti-regime elements. These widely diverse political leaders are part of a worldwide revolt against status quo arrangements and institutions. Relying on the extensive scientific literature on populism, this report identifies 46 populist leaders or political parties that have held executive office across 33 countries between and today.

The rise in global populism over this period is remarkable. Between and , the number of populists in power around the world has increased fivefold, from four to This includes countries not only in Latin America and in Eastern and Central Europe—where populism has traditionally been most prevalent—but also in Asia and in Western Europe.

Most striking is the rise of populism in large and systemically important countries. Where populism in power was once the purview of newly emerging democracies, populism is now in power in strong democracies like the US, Italy and India. Considering the dramatic uptick in the populist vote share, it should perhaps be no surprise that populist candidates are beginning to gain power as well.

What makes these highly varied leaders populists? If one term can describe such a broad set of leaders, does it mean anything at all? This report sets forth to define populism, relying on a deep body of scholarship on the topic that, like populism itself, has been rapidly expanding over the past 20 years. The movement was formed to oppose the demonetisation of silver and championed scepticism of railways, banks and political elites. The second movement attached early on to the term populism was the Russian Narodnichestvo of the s and s, a movement of revolutionary students and intellectuals who idealised rural peasants and believed that they should form the basis of a revolution to overturn tsarist rule.

These movements were parallel—despite vast differences in context—in their belief that power belonged with agrarian workers rather than with the urban elite. It was not until the s that populism came into broader use. A prominent theme in this early literature was to see populism as a reaction to modernisation. Seymour Martin Lipset, a leading modernisation theorist, explained populism as a political expression of the anxieties and anger of those wishing to return to a simpler, premodern life.

One reason that the concept is so difficult to pin down is that the adherents of other isms—like liberalism, communism or socialism—usually proclaim themselves as liberals, communists or socialists. Thus, it is almost always journalists, scholars and other actors outside the movements themselves who label phenomena as populist. Too often, the label is hurled at political opponents rather than used to carefully compare and understand political movements.

Despite these difficulties, recent scholarship on populism has made considerable progress in clearly identifying features of populism that can be compared across a wide variety of countries and contexts. In , Mudde set out a definition of populism that laid the groundwork for careful, broad analysis on the topic. For example, populism advocates overturning the political establishment but lacks a ready answer for what should replace it. Mudde contrasted populism with pluralism, which accepts the legitimacy of many different groups in society. Because populism lacks a specific view on how politics, the economy and society should be organised, it can be combined with a variety of different policies and ideologies, including both right- and left-wing variants.

Yet, most modern-day campaigns claim to be running against existing elites, and all democratically elected politicians would claim, to some extent, to represent the will of the people. Are all those who criticise the status quo populists? The next chapter puts the definition of populism into practice. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, , Populism has two essential features.

First, it holds that the people are locked into conflict with outsiders. Second, it claims that nothing should constrain the will of the true people. Populism draws an unbridgeable divide between the people and outsiders. The people are defined in opposition to outsiders, who allegedly do not belong to the moral and hard-working true people.

From there, populists attribute a singular common good to the people: a policy goal that cannot be debated based on evidence but that derives from the common sense of the people. This general will of the people, populists argue, is not represented by the cartel of self-serving establishment elites who guard status quo politics. Populists build themselves up as an embodiment of the true people. As the embodiments of the true people, populists claim to have the full support of the people. Even though they do not win per cent of the votes, they claim per cent of the votes of the true, moral people—the only members of the political community that they characterise as legitimate.

Part of claiming to embody the true people involves a particular political style. Often, this means decrying political correctness which populists associate with elites , eschewing expert knowledge and idealising the wisdom of common citizens. Bad-manners politics—swearing, political incorrectness and, in general, rejecting the typical rigid language of technocratic politics—is also common. The people and their general will are defined in relation to outsiders. Outsider status is targeted primarily at elites.

The elites can include not only mainstream politicians and business leaders but also a cultural elite—cosmopolitans whose sense of identity is seen as unconstrained by borders and condescending towards the ways of life of the true people. The elite class is painted as part of a self-serving cartel that controls the apparatus of the state, including mainstream political parties and the bureaucracy.

Outsiders can also include immigrants, refugees, racial or religious minorities and criminals. Populists often explicitly affiliate these others with the elite. For example, they may argue that elites opened the borders to immigration, which threatens the well-being of the people. In this sense, populism can exclude both the elite and marginalised communities in the same breath.

Populism is defined not by who is targeted by the politics of anger and resentment, but by the fact that populists draw the line between insiders and outsiders in the first place. This is what makes populism fundamentally anti-pluralist. By defining the people—and delegitimising the status of those outside this boundary—populists throw into question one of the most fundamental prerequisites of democracy itself: agreement on who can legitimately participate in politics. The rhetorical division between the people and outsiders is a powerful political tool. Populists rarely create social cleavages from scratch.

Rather, they exploit and stoke social cleavages that have often been simmering under the surface of politics for many years.

How Racial and Ethnic Identities Shape the Region’s Politics

What is more, populists dramatise social divisions as threats to the nation and elevate them to a matter of national urgency. Populists dramatise social divisions by using a rhetoric of crisis. They first identify a particular failure. The failures vary: they could be the threat that immigrant communities pose to national unity and culture, the threat drug users or criminals pose to national safety, or the threat that cheap imported goods pose to national jobs and production.

Populists are adept at linking failures in one policy area to failures in another, making them appear part of a broad and systematic chain of unfulfilled demands. By doing so, they make the crisis feel both widespread and urgent. Common to many of the crises identified by populists is a sense that the political elites across all mainstream political parties have conspired to depoliticise an important policy question that should be subject to public scrutiny.

In some countries, mainstream political parties have come to a cross-party consensus, for example, about openness to trade, openness to immigration or EU accession; and opposition to these significant policies has no vehicle for representation. The fundamental crisis, then, is one of political representation: by taking important policy issues off the table, elites fail to represent the people. Populists lay the blame for the crisis at the feet of the political class that failed to protect the people. They also group in other outsiders who are the targets of their exclusionary politics as beneficiaries of the crisis.

For example, populist anti-immigration parties present national unity as an urgent crisis that must be addressed. While they blame political elites from mainstream parties for open immigration policies—and for denying the general will of the true people—they blame immigrant communities for benefiting too much from living in their countries, such as by allegedly profiting from welfare policies. Performing a national crisis helps populists fully divide the people from the others. Even if societal divisions long preceded the rise of populism, the rhetoric of crisis elevates the task of solving these divisions to a matter of national urgency.

This provides the backdrop for populists to present themselves as having the answer to the crisis and for the argument that strong leadership is needed to address it. Once populists have defined the people and outsiders and how outsiders imperil the nation , they claim that nothing should constrain the will of the true people. This claim provides a basis for the arguments that only the strong leadership of a populist leader can extract the nation from crisis and that nothing should stand between populists and their base.

As defining a crisis helps populists rhetorically divide the people from outsiders, so crisis also provides the pretext for strong and unconstrained leadership, unfettered by inconvenient institutions like other branches of government. This provides important justification for undermining and discrediting mainstream political parties, civil-society organisations and the media.

It is easy to see, then, how populism can come into conflict with liberal democracy. Independent institutions, like the judiciary, play an essential role in safeguarding fundamental rights; to do so, they must remain independent from politics. Yet, this independence also means that they can make decisions that run counter to popular opinion.

Populist movements cast these independent institutions as an assault on the sovereignty of the people. Ultimately, the question of how populism shapes democracy is an empirical one, but it is hard to deny that populism puts democracy under strain. The actual policies that populists present to address crisis are typically simplistic and gloss over the many complexities of policymaking. The solutions are less about having a convincing answer to a real challenge than about convincing supporters that, unlike the establishment elite, populists see and acknowledge the crisis and that their strong leadership alone can fix it.

Once populists have defined a national crisis, these intermediary institutions become obstacles that stand in the way of solving the crisis, things to be bulldozed over in the name of getting things done. Given that strong leadership is needed, populists position themselves as the sole saviours of the people from crisis.

To do so, populists often portray themselves as the heroic embodiments of important historical figures, fulfilling national destinies and carrying the mantles of history. Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is more forceful, portraying himself as the Jesus Christ of Italian politics, the one sacrificing himself for the whole.

By portraying themselves as the heirs of these important national figures, populists can gain support by benefiting from the emotional appeal of historical leaders. For populists, actors and institutions that typically mediate the connection between politicians and voters—such as the media, political parties and civil-society organisations—thwart the will of the people to serve special interests.

Instead, populists emphasise direct and unmediated forms of communication with their supporters.

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Social media has also become a powerful populist tool by enabling a direct connection between the people and their voice. Thus, rather than connecting to voters through a policy platform and political parties, populists tend to reach voters in a much more personalistic way. This is quite different from pluralism, which emphasises civil-society groups as the key link between citizens and the state.

In a nonpopulist democratic setting, political parties are typically responsible for selecting candidates and debating a policy platform. There is little scope for them to do so in a populist framework. Populism allows a single answer to who should represent the people and, similarly, little room for debate about policy ideas.

Political compromise becomes antithetical to populist politics: not only are political opponents viewed as less legitimate members of the political community, but compromise is also painted as a betrayal of the will of the people. Populists do sometimes create and use political organisations. Whereas some populist leaders have direct and unmediated linkages with their followers, others build dense party or civil-society organisations to structure and discipline followers. Yet, populist movements are not like other, nonpopulist social movements in at least one key respect: the allegiance of the rank and file to the movement centres on the leader, and the masses have little means of establishing any political autonomy from him or her.

Alternatively, populists can organise their own political parties or co-opt the structures of existing parties to rally their base. The key is that populists attack and delegitimise any possible opposition to their rule. Thus, populists are not universally against institutions.

In sum, populism is the combination of two claims: the people are locked into conflict with outsiders; and nothing should constrain the will of the true people. Populism can be identified according to the prevalence of these two claims. This minimal definition of populism is appealing because it enables the phenomenon to be examined across a wide range of countries and contexts.

It also does not link populism with any particular set of social or economic policies or any specific constituency.

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The following chapter lays out three main types of populism. Populism varies according to the portrayal of which actors in society belong to the pure people and which to the outsiders. Populism manifests itself so differently across contexts that it is hard to think about its effects on political institutions without taking these variations into account. There are three broad ways of demarcating the people and the elite, frequently used by populist candidates and parties: cultural, socio-economic and anti-establishment. These types of populism are distinguished by how political elites use populist discourse to sow divisions see table 1.

So, for example, populists who invoke cultural populism define the main crisis facing the nation as a cultural one: outsiders and cosmopolitan elites threaten the cultural continuity of the native nation-state. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the supporters of cultural populism are motivated wholly by cultural concerns. Concerns about declining economic status can raise the effectiveness of cultural appeals.

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S1 : S57—S Similarly, supporters of socio-economic populism may be motivated equally by concerns about cultural exclusion and by economic anxieties. Nonetheless, cultural and socio-economic populism differ in how populist leaders frame the key crisis facing the nation and the key divisions between the people and outsiders. Some populists combine elements of all three forms of populism, weaving together cultural crises with economic ones and using both to justify purging the establishment.

Likewise, some populist voters are motivated by multiple perceived problems and do not view populist leaders solely through an economic, cultural or anti-establishment lens. This analysis attempts to classify populists based on the primary crisis that they emphasise. However, like classifying populism itself, cleanly dividing between the categories is an imperfect exercise. Cultural populists claim that only members of a native group belong to the true people and that new entrants or cultural outsiders pose a threat to the nation-state.

Thus, cultural populist parties often have issue ownership in their countries over immigration and over debates, ethnic diversity and identity politics. Those defined as outsiders can include members of mainstream political parties who, by agreeing across party lines on the overall openness of the country to immigration even if they disagree on levels or on EU accession, have removed immigration as an important point of policy debate.

For cultural populists, outsiders also include cultural elites tied to cosmopolitanism and to opening borders and culture to outsiders. Emphasis on culture does not necessarily coincide with traditionally conservative economic policy. For this reason, the traditional right and left labels are not used here, as nativism can be combined with left-wing economic policy and inclusionary populism can be combined with conservative economic policy.

This type of populism could include everything from anti-immigrant manifestations in Europe and North America to Islamic populism in Turkey and Indonesia. Cultural populism also includes law-and-order populism, in which criminals are cast as the primary enemies of the people who are threatening the character of the country, such as is being seen with the rise of Bolsonaro in Brazil and Duterte in the Philippines.

Among socio-economic populists, there is a reverence for the common worker. The pure people belong to a specific social class, which is not necessarily constrained by national borders. For example, socio-economic populists may see working classes in neighbouring countries as natural allies. The corrupt elites can include big businesses, capital owners, state elites, and foreign forces and international institutions that prop up an international capitalist system. In general, socio-economic populists strongly resist foreign influence in domestic markets. In some manifestations, socio-economic populism can have an ethnic dimension.

However, the ethnic dimension is inclusionary rather than exclusionary: in contrast to cultural populism, which is based on the idea that some should be excluded from the people, socio-economic populism may advocate the inclusion of previously marginalised ethnic groups as core members of the working class.

Although all forms of populism tend to be anti-establishment, this form of populism is different from both cultural and socio-economic populism in that the conflict is primarily with establishment elites rather than with any specific ethnic or social group. In cultural populism, establishment elites are implicated primarily through their role in enabling too much cultural openness; in socio-economic populism, establishment elites are implicated mainly through their role in empowering economic elite and foreign interests.

For anti-establishment populists, the pure people are the honest, hard-working citizens who are preyed on by an elite-run state that serves special interests, and these elites are the primary enemy of the people. Thus, anti-establishment populism often emphasises ridding the state of corruption and purging prior regime loyalists. Because anti-establishment populism focuses on political elites as the enemy, it can in some cases be less socially divisive than either cultural or socio-economic populism, which, in addition to casting political elites as the enemy, also paint members of society as outsiders.

This variant of populism has often been wedded to an economic affiliation with market liberalism. Although it may seem an odd combination at first blush, there is significant history, especially in Latin America and Eastern Europe, of fusing populism with market liberalism. This project aims to build a systematic understanding of how populists govern, including how they reshape state institutions, how they may or may not erode the quality of liberal democracy, and the economic policies that they implement.

To understand these questions across a wide range of social, economic and political contexts, a global accounting of populism in power is necessary.

Human Systemic Risk

To make the project cross-regional, the focus of this project is on both leaders and parties that can be classified as populist. While parliamentary systems tend to give precedence to political parties, presidential systems favour individual leaders. This analysis focuses on populist parties and leaders who attained executive office in at least minimally democratic countries between and Venezuela is a bit of an odd case. By the time he died in office in , Venezuela had backslid into autocracy.

However, we include the Maduro regime in the database as it is really one long spell of populism in the country. This includes only those populists who reached the presidency or prime ministership or the equivalent executive office , and not those who governed as minority partners in a coalition government.

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Specifically, we used the Archigos database of political leaders, which identifies the effective leader of every country in every year going back to Requiring that countries have attained a certain level of democracy to be included leaves off many instances of populism that have risen in semi-democratic or authoritarian settings. This omits, for example, many cases of African and Middle Eastern populism.

Similarly, requiring that the populist leader or party has attained the highest executive office ignores many instances where populism has been highly influential yet has never risen to the level of controlling the executive branch. Yulia Tymoshenko is such an example. In this sense, the database conservatively undercounts the global incidence and influence of populism. Classifying particular parties and leaders as populist is a fraught exercise, due to the many disagreements on the definition of populism and the fact that populism is hardly a binary phenomenon that is either fully present or fully absent.

Some leaders may be readily identifiable as full-blown populists, yet many sit on the boundary.


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Moreover, to the extent that populism is a political strategy that can be adopted in different degrees by different actors over time rather than a strict political doctrine that actors either subscribe to or not , the presence or absence of populism is a matter of degree that can vary over time. Given the difficulty of this exercise, a reasonable place to start is the extensive scientific literature on populism and the deep well of subject matter and case-study expertise that can be found there. This can be seen in the fact that scholars of populism tend to reference the same set of cases over and over.

Using a process described in detail in the appendix, we developed a list of the cases of populism around the world on which there is the most consensus among regional and populism experts see table 2. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first global database on populist leaders in power. Moffitt has developed a cross-regional list of populists, although his aim was not to create a comprehensive list of all populists who have attained executive office around the world.

Because it is the first, it is bound to be imperfect. We plan to continue to interact with experts both to update the database over time and to come to new understandings about historical cases of populism worldwide. Despite the difficulty of the exercise, it is worthwhile to move beyond sensationalist claims about populism and towards a systematic and comparative understanding of populism in power.

In all, there are 46 populist leaders or political parties that have held executive office across 33 countries between and today. During this period, populists in power peaked between and , and again in , when 20 populist leaders held executive office see figure 3.

This includes countries not only in Latin America and in Eastern and Central Europe, where populism has traditionally been most prevalent, but also in Asia and in Western Europe. Whereas populism in power was once the purview of newly emerging democracies, populism is now in power in strong democracies like the US, Italy and India. While there has been a relatively steady number of anti-establishment populists in power over time, the numbers of both cultural and socio-economic populists have grown dramatically see figure 4.

In contrast to socio-economic populism, which peaked in —, cultural populism has been rising steadily since the late s.

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It is now by far the most prevalent form of populism in power. While railing against the political establishment, cultural populists also target outside forces in society that they perceive as a threat to the people. This can include immigrants, refugees, ethnic and religious minorities, and criminals.

At least three distinct types of cultural populism are on the rise. Special attention should be paid to potential synergies and trade-offs in three areas: 1 integrated policy making and budgeting, 2 securing the natural resource base and 3 building strong and inclusive democracies. Around the same time this meeting took place, a new report to the Club of Rome was released looking at the possibility of achieving the SDGs within planetary boundaries. The authors warn that without major changes in the way economic growth is defined and pursued, humanity will be confronted with massive trade-offs between the socio-economic and environmental SDGs by For Latin America, this warning becomes especially concrete when economic growth, environmental and socio-economic trends are viewed side by side.

In addition, commercial agriculture is the main cause of deforestation, according to the FAO. Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon hit its highest rate in a decade just last year. All while inequality and violence remain worryingly high. A new study carried out by the Centre for Development and Environment CDE takes the first-ever look at specific links between different forms of inequality, increasing agricultural productivity, and farmland expansion at the expense of forests in Latin America.

The study finds that greater inequality leads to more deforestation, while lower inequality better protects forests in the long term. We propose that Latin America should move particularly fast around the following three areas. Addressing trade-offs within and between national policies and budgets begins with better coordination, and progress is being made to institutionalize coordination for the SDGs. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 19 out of 33 countries have institutional coordination mechanisms for the implementation of the Agenda, and 11 countries have national development plans that are aligned with the SDGs.

However, there have not been sufficient analyses of the extent to which these mechanisms are systematically addressing trade-offs in their strategic planning, and whether such integration is trickling down into national budgets. The SDGs do not provide specific guidelines for integrated policy making and budgeting to achieve the Goals. It is therefore vital to focus on the integration of national policy and budgets. Through this methodology decision-makers can achieve cost-effective policy coherence. Indeed, designing policy while understanding the effect one target has on others allows minimizing policy implementation costs by investing in the right leveraging target.

The reduction of deforestation and unsustainable landscape transformation, the transformation of rural agri-food systems and biodiversity conservation need to constitute the pillars of regional environmental agendas. These issues are tightly interconnected: while the current agri-food system will further accelerate deforestation, transforming it can be a powerful lever in reducing deforestation and supporting climate mitigation and adaptation.

However, we should pay special attention to trade-offs that might appear when these agendas are translated to the national and local levels, including negative impacts on the livelihoods of rural food producing populations. Ignoring such potential trade-offs would compromise the need to leave no one behind.

We also need to assess and manage trade-offs in achieving climate and food goals. Central America and Caribbean countries are extremely vulnerable to both climate change and food insecurity, but they face socio-economic, institutional, technological, financing and environmental barriers to solving these problems. We need to develop land-based options for mitigating climate change, and at the same time support agriculture and food security by providing the right balance between high value-added crops and staple crops.

As suggested by the IPCC report, meeting SDG 13 will require achieving negative emissions, which would have important implications for land use in terms of afforestation and avoided deforestation. Almost a dozen elections will have taken place in Latin America in , which makes for a changing policy environment. The Brookings Institution has suggested that lower economic growth following commodity price decline in the region since mid can lead voters to choose changes in government that favor populist parties with the hope of returning to more prosperity.