Understanding Society: Beyond Populism

Download the latest edition of Understanding Society - Beyond Populism – which explores the major political and social shifts around the world.

Welcome to this international edition of Ipsos Social Research Institute’s Understanding Society – Beyond Populism. In our recent publications, we have painted a picture of changes in the public mood, but for this special edition, we are delighted to bring together a wide range of influential voices and the latest ideas that are shaping the debate.

Our own major global survey on populist trends highlights the importance of nativism and a sense across a wide variety of countries that the ‘system is broken’. However, we conclude, as others do in this edition, that populism as it’s commonly discussed  is more of a political strategy than a coherent ideology. There are certainly common themes – but the key is to understand what lies beneath and beyond in citizens’ beliefs, rather than try to fit all global situations to one common phenomenon.

In the same vein, Cas Mudde, Associate Professor at the University of Georgia reminds us that ‘populism’ is a useful concept in understanding contemporary European politics, but it should be applied as one of several ideas.

In Britain it is the one year anniversary of the EU referendum and we are delighted to have contributions from David Goodhart and Matthew Goodwin outlining their explanations of the ‘leave’ vote. In Goodhart’s view, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump have been caused by a growing value divide between the people from “Anywhere” – the educated and mobile, and the people from “Somewhere” – the more ‘rooted’. He argues that the EU referendum vote was the Somewheres taking their chance to reject the Anywhere worldview.

Goodwin argues that the Remain camp, headed by then-Prime Minister David Cameron, amplified these divisions through an ‘elite-focussed’ campaign that underplayed issues like immigration and erosion of sovereignty, which a large section of the electorate cared deeply about.

Following a politically tumultuous year after the EU referendum and the US Election, all eyes have been on the 2017 French election. Le Monde’s eminent journalist Gérard Courtois, takes us on the campaign trail and tells us how the ‘insurgents’ from both sides of political spectrum,  En Marche! and Front National, have turned the French political system ‘upside down’. Courtois documents the fall of Marine Le Pen and argues that Macron’s victory – aided by the left and right – signifies a deep desire for political renewal and economic and social reform.

Moisés Naím, Distinguished Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment and author, tells us that power is shifting – it is now easier to get, harder to use and easier to lose. Naím highlights some of the ‘ingredients’ he thinks‘populist’ leaders have in common.

Emily Ekins, Research  Fellow at the Cato Institute, examines President Donald Trump’s voters, but also the social shifts in American society that led to the US election. Ekins argues that the ‘political elites’ have long avoided talking about the potential costs of immigration for fear that it may magnify them.

We are also delighted to have a view from Latin America through the expert lens of Professor Carlos H Waisman, and from India, by Santosh Desai, managing director of Futurebrands, and author of the Times of India blog City City Bang Bang. For Waisman, populism is structural in Latin America, whereas it is opportunistic in the US and Europe.

Social media is playing an increasingly significant role in the way we live and communicate, and consequently, how we participate in the democratic system. Desai questions the nature of democracy in a digital age – does it move towards greater personal freedoms or feed off cultural anxiety and heighten polarities? In a country like India, where 283 million are estimated to be social media users, Desai explores the shifting common currency of ideas.

And finally, we are delighted to have political accounts from journalists Nick O’Malley from The Sydney Morning Herald and Tracey Watkins, Political Editor and Parliamentary Bureau Chief of Fairfax Media in New Zealand. Both O’Malley and Watkins give us an account of the insurgent parties and political figures that are rising to the fore in mainstream politics, and what this means for the Australian and New Zealand landscapes.

We hope you enjoy reading this special edition of Understanding Society, one year on from a momentous vote in the UK. We do not usually showcase as many different external perspectives in our journal and tend to build more on our own research and analysis. But this is such an important global topic, we think drawing on some of the key thinkers in the area will help inform the debate among our readers. As always, the usual caveat applies – the views expressed here are those of the authors, not necessarily those of Ipsos.

We remain committed to understanding society from the broad range of social and political research we and others conduct, in the belief that this leads to better politics, policy and practice. If you would like to discuss any of the research here, please get in touch.

Bobby Duffy
Managing Director
Ipsos Social Research Institute

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