Right-wing populism has been gaining traction over the past two decades. Once relatively minor players in democratic politics, populist parties today mobilize millions of voters and garner unprecedented electoral support with their antiimmigrant discourse. But what has changed to make populists so much stronger now than in the last century? Explanations in the literature tend to focus either on economic concerns or the cultural threat posed by immigrants with distinct languages and traditions. This paper examines these explanations from the literature and builds on them to argue that perceptions of economic and cultural threats feed off each other, and increasingly so with increased immigration from less culturally similar regions. We begin with the assumption that voter sentiment toward non-natives runs the gamut from strongly negative to positive, with more voters being willing to support right-wing populists at the polls in line with increases in perceived economic concerns and fears that immigration will dilute or drown out native culture. When these combine — when increased flows of culturally distant immigrants coincide with economic hard times — voters who normally would support mainstream parties and tolerate immigration are more likely to turn to populists. We test arguments from the literature and our interactive hypothesis using data from the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems (CSES).
Journal of Political Institutions and Political Economy, Volume 2, Issue 3 Special Issue - The Political Economy of Populism, Part I
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