The role and rise of populism

A new book co-authored by the University’s Professor Matthew Goodwin explores why populism is now a serious force in many Western democracies and is here to stay.

Co-authored with Professor Roger Eatwell (University of Bath) and titled National Populism: The Revolt Against Liberal Democracy (Penguin Random House, 25 October 2018) the book also makes a compelling case for serious, respectful engagement with the supporters and ideas of national populism – not least because it is a tide that won’t be stemmed anytime soon.

Across the West, there is a rising number of people who feel excluded, alienated from mainstream politics, and increasingly hostile towards minorities, immigrants and neo-liberal economics. Many of these voters are turning to national populist movements, which have begun to change the face of Western liberal democracy, from the United States to France, Austria to the UK.

This radical turn, we are told, is a last howl of rage from an aging electorate on the verge of extinction. Their leaders are fascistic and their politics anti-democratic; their existence a side-show to liberal democracy. But this version of events, as Professor Goodwin and Professor Roger Eatwell show, could not be further from the truth.

Through an analysis of historical and recent events, they reveal argue that the movements which gave us Trump and Brexit are rooted in four deep and long-term trends that are reshaping politics in the West, which they term the ‘4Ds’.  These are:

  1. Distrust of liberal democracy and its elitist politicians who largely ignore many voters, even treat them with contempt.
  2. Destruction of national and local communities, especially by immigration which in many countries is at record levels and involves ethnic ‘hyper diversity’
  3. Deprivation in a relative sense, where people and groups compare their economic situation with others and fear for the future (not to be confused with poverty, as the poorest tend not to support national populist parties)
  4. Dealignment of voters as they break away from mainstream parties, in some cases lapsing not apathy but in others becoming available to new parties.

Book cover of National Populism

Professor Goodwin said: ‘Our book draws on a wealth of polling data, demographic research and historical examples to present a crucial new guide to one of the most urgent political phenomena of our time.  We explain why most national-populist voters want more democracy – more referendums and more empathetic and listening politicians that give more power to the people and less power to established economic and political elites.’

Matthew J. Goodwin is Professor of Politics in Kent’s School of Politics and International Relations and a Senior Fellow at Chatham House. His previous books include Brexit: Why Britain Voted to Leave the European Union (Paddy Power Political Book of the Year 2015) and Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain.

Roger Eatwell is Emeritus Professor of Comparative politics (University of Bath) and has published widely, especially on fascism, populism and related themes such as charismatic leadership.