Note: Reading through the text below a few months after writing it has made me come to the conclusion, that it's definition of populism is faulty.
Why? Because there is no such thing as "the populous". Hierarchies used to analyse voting behaviour are abstract constructs that don't understand it's fine nuances and the immense heterogeneity of the "general population" makes it impossible to fully comprehend it in the first place. That's why it would be wrong to define a "populist politician" as someone who finds easy answers to complex questions.
Most people do not make political decisions based on reason, which would involve the tiresome act of deliberation. They tend to take the easy way out and follow their instincts, which are based on emotion. The text below therefore defines populism as the targeted use of emotions for political influence and states that this practice has increased lately.
But I would now argue that "politics of emotion" have always existed and are simply a means of getting into politics and surviving once you've done so, rather than malicious manipulation.
Also, one has to keep in mind that social media, which has replaced largely homogenous communities with niche groups, each peddling their own ideology, has increased the potential of insecure and detached voters, making them more receptive to emotional manipulation.
But are we really more polarised or are society's apparent polarisations simply the product of democratised debate? Because this question cannot be answered by the text below, I have cut out it's many trivial attempts to do so.
Local problems or national politics, global movements or individual insecurities can motivate people to vote populist. Many want change. Fast.
It's unsurprising that poorer people have less trust in political parties. In Germany, over 40 percent of the respondents to a study with a net household income of under €3,000 did not trust any political parties whatsoever, while the same was true of significantly less than 30 percent of those in higher pay-grades.
Shifts in economic sectors have made blue-collar communities especially vulnerable to change.
Areas traditionally reliant on secondary sector industry in both the UK and Germany are now at an apparent economic disadvantage and yearn for ‘levelling up’ – something Boris Johnson cleverly exploited in his 2019 election campaign.
Saxony, greatly reliant on secondary industries such as machine construction, has also seen nearly 30 percent of people voting for the populist AFD party in recent elections, more than any other German state.
But Katja Kipping, the leader of Germany’s Left party, does not believe that regional inequality creates populism. “Whether you lose your job or are dependent on welfare because of illness makes no difference to those who are affected. The nurse who runs out of money at the end of the month because of the high rents doesn't have it any easier than the production assistant who has to turn over every Euro twice due to the low wages ”, she tells me.
Moreover, progressive social views have provoked a cultural backlash from traditionally conservative rural populations. Many are under the impression that their "patriotic" attitudes are threatened and feel isolated in communities that are increasingly changing.
Culminating in the 2016 Brexit referendum, the roots of realist populism in the U.K lie largely in the EU’s percieved focus on “non-British interests”.
People did not vote Brexit because of EUconomics. They voted for it because the EU had become a symbol of liberalisation and abstract poltics, not in line with 'common sense' populism.
Similar trends can be seen in Germany. A 2018 study conducted by the university of Leipzig found nearly half of AFD voters think that "there are secret organizations that have a big impact on political decisions”. But Alexander Gauland, the AFD's former leader, rebuked this in a statement to me, arguing instead that “the primary reason (for the AFD’s success), is the marginalization of real conservative politics”.
This would be in line with Samuel P. Huntington theory in his Essay “The clash of Civilizations”, which predicted that the main future cause of conflict would be cultural identity rather than political ideology.
Looking to Britain, the drive towards mass higher education has led to a “divergence between better and worse educated”. Over 90% of academics voted to remain in the European Union. While they will have based their descision on personal considerations, many of those who do not feel part of the ‘liberal elite’ have voiced their discontent at wider societal phenomenons by voting in defiance of an percieved elite instead of their direct interest.
Pure populism is commendable.
It acts as an inclusive movement for people of all persuasions and backgrounds in democracy, strengthening and protecting it from interior or exterior harm. It provides common ground and creates social consensus.
When however abused, it will polarize and reinforce stigmas.
The largest difference between British and German populism lies in the fact that German populism appeals to those who feel they have, or are going to, lose out as individuals or members of a certain region while society as a whole gets richer.
British populism in turn speaks to those who feel that the worthiness and pride of their country has already been undermined, resulting in the collective succumbing to a hostile new globalism dominated by historic enemies such as China or Russia and emphasized by gentrification or fiscal measures such as austerity.
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