Theme Panel: Comparative Perspectives on U.S. Populism and Potential for Democratic Erosion

Comparative Perspectives on U.S. Populism and Potential for Democratic Erosion

With the victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 Presidential election, populists have come to power in the US. Supported by the Social Science Research Council’s Anxieties of Democracy Program, the papers on this panel address this electoral success, paying particular attention to the role played by American political institutions. The panel starts by situating American populism in a comparative perspective, and then examines how American institutions variously enable and inhibit populist appeals.

In keeping with the conference theme on “Democracy and Its Discontents”, the panel addresses populism in America by combining approaches from several subfields: jointly, the papers on this panel use traditional tools from the study of American politics while also encouraging the use of and relying on insights from comparative studies of populism and social movements.

First, Kirk Hawkins and Levi Littvay set the stage by analyzing Donald Trump’s victory using insights from the comparative study of populism. They measure Trump’s populism both before and after the election, compare him to leaders in other countries, and analyze American voters’ perceptions of him as populist.

The remaining papers highlight and analyze the relationship between American political institutions and populist political appeals. Karen Jusko starts by analyzing geographic and over-time variation in the rise in populist candidates’ appeal. She argues that electoral groups become more susceptible to populist appeals in situations when the groups are rarely electorally pivotal, and where politicians therefore have fewer incentives to appeal to their interests.

Participants
Nolan McCarty, Princeton University (Chair)
David J. Samuels, University of Minnesota (Discussant)

Papers:
Populism in Comparative Perspective: The 2016 US Presidential Election
Kirk A. Hawkins, Brigham Young University (Author)
Levente Littvay, Central European University (Author)

Populism and the Political Geography of Grievances
Karen Long Jusko, Stanford University (Author)

Madisonian Institutions and Populist Movements
Frances E. Lee, University of Maryland (Author)

The GOP as a Movement Party: Mobilizations, Ideology, and Populism
Kenneth M, Roberts, Cornell University (Author)