Right-Wing Populist Parties and the Politicization of Resentment
Right-Wing Populist Parties and the
Politicization of Resentment
University of Helsinki, 29 Nov 2017
(University of Tampere)
• Populism, incl. some of my own work
• Right-wing populism
• Explanations for success of right-wing populism
• Supply/demand explanations
• Cultural/economic explanations
• Synthesis: a combination of explanations
• Politicization of resentment
What is Populism?
• A movement (Wiles 1969)
• An ideology (Mudde 2007, Stanley 2008)
• A (discursive) logic (Laclau 2007)
• A (discursive) frame (Aslanidis 2015)
• A practice (Jansen 2011)
• A style (Moffitt 2016)
• A repertoire (Brubaker 2017)
• All have in common: the people vs. the elite
Problems with ‘Ideology’
• So many ‘populists’ it’s hard to see what’s the ‘ideology’
• Narodniks in1860s–70s Russia, People’s Party of 1890s USA, George Wallace in
1960s, Hugo Chavez, Juan & Evita Perón, Silvio Berlusconi,Thaksin Shinawatra, Geert
Wilders, Jörg Haider, Marine Le Pen,Timo Soini, Jussi Halla-aho,Tea Party, Donald
Trump, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, M5S, Pirate Parties, SYRIZA, Podemos,
• What’s the sufficient criteria to call someone a ‘populist’?
• How much does ‘populism’ tell us about their ideology?
• Is ‘populism’ or ‘nationalism’ central in ‘right-w. populism’?
• (e.g. Moffitt 2016, Mudde 2007, Stavrakakis 2017)
• How to study an internalized system of values?
• Are you ‘really’ a populist or is it just strategic?
Populism in Action
• A cultural toolkit, repertoire, or practice (Swidler 1986)
• Not either/or but more/less (Brubaker 2017, Moffitt 2016)
• It does affect content (Entman 1993, Moffitt 2016)
• Political action can be empirically observed
• People vs. elite
• People = real, authentic, natural, honest, everyday, simple;
• Elite = corrupt, bureaucratic, technocratic; distant from common
sense, knowledge learned from everyday experiences, and the will of
the people; tells ‘us’ what to do and how to live
• N.B. people as nation OR people as class?
• People and elite always defined in relation to each other!
A Left-Wing Example
• “When this government came to power,PM Sipilä solemnly
swore that these [budget cuts] affect everyone,that all will do
their part ...now when we look at what happened we see that
the poor do all the work while the rich sit and watch eating
hot dogs and shout out orders.” – PaavoArhinmäki (Left
Alliance) 22 Sep 2017,Finnish Parliament
• People = working class, elite = capitalists
• Whereas in right-wing populism, people = nation
Left / Right
• Populism’s roots in1890s rural USA, The People’s Party
• Against urbanization, modernization,“the money power” (Kazin 1998)
• ‘Left-wing’ social equality combined with conservative values
• A producer ethic: society should value those who make things
• Finnish Rural Party (SMP) 1959–1995
• 1990s– European right-wing populism (people as nation)
• Ca. 2005–: a new left-wing populism?
• SYRIZA (Greece), Podemos (Spain), Pirate Party (Iceland),
M5S (Italy), Bernie Sanders (USA), Jeremy Corbyn (UK)
• Populist vs. technocratic political style?
(Benjamin Moffitt 2016:The Global Rise of Populism, p. 46)
Studying Populism in Action, Empirically
• Rather than selecting pre-defined “populism”,
look at how populism is used
• In parliaments, campaigns
• But also in public debates, social media, countermedia
• Appeals to emotional familiarity in the Suvivirsi debate
• Demanding that personal feelings be accepted as political arguments
• Rather than requiring demands to be framed by general values
• Contesting expertise in populist countermedia
(Ylä-Anttila, in press)
• Common sense knowledge
What is ‘Right-Wing Populism’?
• Mudde (2007: 19):“the term nativism clearly constitutes
the core of the ideology of [the populist radical right]”
• a radical form of nationalism
• nationalism:“a political doctrine that strives for the congruence of ...
the nation and the state ... the core goal of the nationalist is to achieve
a monocultural state” (Mudde 2007: 16)
• nativism, radical nationalism, is “an ideology, which holds that states
should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (‘the
nation’) and that nonnative elements (persons and ideas) are
fundamentally threatening to the homogeneous nation-state”
(Mudde 2007: 19)
• nativism = nationalism + xenophobia
RW Populism: People, Elite, Others
• The basic dichotomy of populism: people / elite
• Flexibly defined, but in relation to each other (Laclau 2007)
• Defining out-groups necessary for defining the in-group: who we are not
• E.g. if people = working class, then elite = capitalists (constitutive outside)
• If people = the nation, who’s the elite?
• Right-wing populism adds 3rd category: Others
• (‘triadic populism’, Judis 2016)
• Immigrants, ethnic minorities, sexual minorities, welfare recipients...
• Do not belong to the people or the elite, but:
• “these Others will be linked to ‘the elite’. For example, it might be argued
that ‘liberal elites’ have allowed increased immigration, which has led to
an influx of migrants, which has threatened ‘the people’s’ livelihood”
(Moffitt 2016: 43–44)
• Radical nationalism
• The state exists to serve the (ethnic) nation and should be ruled by
the nation, all non-native elements are a threat
• “the belief in a strictly ordered society, in which infringements of
authority are to be punished severely” (Mudde 2007: 23)
• Law & order, punitive moralism
• Moral distinction between ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ elite
• Anti-liberal, also in the sense of liberal democracy
Q: Which of these is ‘primary’ and how to measure?
Explaining the Success of RW Populism
• Demand / supply explanations (Eatwell 2003)
• Demand: what causes people to vote for PRR?
• Typically structural
• E.g. increased immigration & unemployment, decreased trust
• Supply: what do populists do to get ppl to vote for them?
• “messages which reach voters” (Eatwell 2003)
• Programmes, (charismatic) leadership
• Cultural / economic explanations
• Both typically demand-side
• The single-issue thesis
• “It’s just about immigration”
• Critique: Why?
• The protest thesis
• “It’s just anti-politics”
• Critique:The PRR has electorate with PRR values (Kestilä 2006)
• The social breakdown thesis (‘ontological insecurity’)
• “Institutions like class & religion wane → turn to nation, family”
• Critique: Complex, hard to prove/falsify, how to measure?
• The post-material thesis
• “Class interests are now less important than lifestyle and identity”
• Critique: RW populist voting is quite working-class-based
• The economic interest thesis
• “Ppl don’t want immigrants taking their jobs”
• Critique: Is it really those whose jobs are threatened who vote RW populist?
• The Political Opportunity Structure (POS) thesis
• “Mainstream parties are dropping the ball” OR they are “legitimizing racism”
• Critique:Which is it? Doesn’t POS always affect all parties? Needs specificity
• The mediatization thesis
• “The media favours politicians who provide drama, conflict, scandal”
• Critique: How about social media?
• The national traditions thesis
• “PRR parties present themselves as continuing these, thus appear legitimate”
• Critique: So people vote according to their values? Big surprise. But why?
• The programmatic thesis
• Different versions of “people want the PRR programme”
• Critique: See above
• The charismatic leader thesis
• This one is pretty self-explanatory
• Critique:What’s charismatic to a voter? Liberals wouldn’t want a populist
Has ‘Supply’ of RW Populism Increased?
(similar evidence from Europe, also for supply of nativism and authoritarianism)
Has ‘Demand’ for RW Populism Increased?
• Trust in government has only declined in the Southern debtor
countries of the EU during the economic crisis (2005–2015), not in
the North (Bonikowski 2017)
• Perhaps explains SYRIZA, Podemos and M5S,
but not PRR support in the North
• Anti-immigration attitudes have been very stable in Europe and USA
over the past 20 years (Bonikowski 2017)
• Why is anti-immigration party voting increasing when anti-
immigration attitudes aren’t?
• There is no convincing evidence of broadly increasing anti-
democratic attitudes (Bonikowski 2017)
• All in all: no strong evidence of RW populism demand increasing
• All these explanations have merits but none can explain the
rise of RW populism on its own
• A combination of:
• “Demand”: social breakdown, economic interest, POS:
breakdown is hard to quantify but makes sense, and is coupled with
economic interests, particularly for the working class, which used to
vote left-wing, but left-wing parties have become culturally liberal,
creating an opportunity structure.
• “Supply”: single-issue, programmatic, national traditions,
protest: lots of ppl have conservative and anti-immigrant values
(Borg, Kestilä) but did not have credible alternative before.Wanted
to protest in 2011 (Borg).There is a stable RW populist voter base.
It’s more of a puzzle why people (whos values align with RW populism)
did not previously vote RW populists than why they do now.
• As globalization moves production and manual labor out of
Western countries, the working-class gets ‘left behind’
• “they have fewer resources ... they often lack exit options ... are
less educated ... are more likely to be (or at least perceive
themselves to be) in social decline ... recent transformations in
the economy ... have increasingly marginalized and excluded
segments of the population ... [they] have cultural capital
invested in ‘old’ modes of production (i.e. unskilled and
semiskilled workers, and segments of the lower middle class,
such as some small tradesmen and craftsmen, and other small
employers, etc.) have found themselves in social decline in
absolute or relative terms, which may foster feelings of relative
deprivation (not least of social status)” (Rydgren 2013)
Cultural and Economic Concerns
• It’s claimed that the situation of the working class leads
them to “turn to the radical right because they want to
reduce competition from immigrants over scarce resources
such as the labor market, housing, welfare state benefits, or
even the marriage market” (Rydgren 2007: 250)
• But personal/geographical loss of income or jobs is not often
correlated with PRR voting (Kaufmann 2016)
• Rather than just economic interests, it’s about perceived
injustice, deservingness,‘being left behind’, resentment
• It doesn’t have to happen to you personally, if you feel that your
way of life and your group is threatened
• “the negative reactive attitude that a person develops in the
face of another person’s indifference, insult and injury towards
him ... implies a disapproval of the injurer ... presupposes moral
responsibility ... unpleasant feeling that somebody is enjoying
one or more privileges in an improper and unequal way”
(Demertzis 2006, paraphrasing Strawson and Barbalet)
• What underlies resentment is deservingness: the feeling that
you have a right to something (Cramer 2016)
The Politics of Resentment (2016)
• “political differences ...have become personal ...we treat differences in our
political points of view as fundamental differences in who we are as human beings”
• An ethnographic study of political debates of ordinary people in ruralWisconsin
• A feeling of being left behind,cities get all the jobs and development
• ‘City people don’t even drive pickup trucks that fit tools and machinery,how could
they earn their living?’
• ‘Professors take a shower before they go to work,not after’
• Physical labor is how you earn a living
• Producer ethic:“it held that only those who created wealth in tangible,material
ways (on and under the land,in workshop,on the sea) could be trusted to guard
the nation’s piety and liberties” (Kazin 1998)
• Populism opposes‘the money power’ because it’s not real
Arlie Russell Hochschild:
Strangers in their Own Land (2016)
• Why do people who live in the countryside vote ‘against their interests’?
• Rural Louisiana is the most polluted place in the US but one of the most supportive
of anti-regulation Tea Party politicians
• Hochschild tells a ‘deep story’ of these people, their beliefs and feelings
• A story that ‘feels as if it were true’ to them
• A story of the American dream:
• We are all waiting in line across a mountain, and on the other side there is
treasure: the freedom that a steady job, your own home and car provides
• But some people cut in line: women, people of color, immigrants
• The people Hochschild interviews think these people cut in line (are given
something in an unjust way) but perhaps it’s just that they are now allowed in
the line in the first place?!
• Deservingness is the flipside of privilege: liberal elites claim that white men are
privileged (they have too many rights), whereas rural white working-class men
feel they are deserving (they have too few rights)
• “These days,American men are an endangered species too” (p. 61)
• Despite supply and demand remaining stable, the economic
and cultural context may increase the resonance (salience,
importance) of RW populism for particular groups
• Industrial jobs are leaving Europe and USA
• Working-class cultural connection between hard work and social
status (producer ethic, Hochschild & Cramer)
• → “Why are people who work less earning more?”
• Increased immigration to US &Western Europe increases resonance
of existing nativist attitudes
Loss of Relative Social Status
• PRR core electorate everywhere is white working-class men
• Who have experienced loss of relative social status everywhere
• “the level of social respect or esteem people believe is
accorded to them within the social order ... people’s own
feelings about the levels of respect or recognition they receive
relative to others in society” (Gidron & Hall 2017)
• “subjective social status is likely to be conditioned both by
material circumstances and by prevailing cultural beliefs about
what is most valued in society” (ibid.)
• “Just as the preceding class politics was not purely
economic, so the populist politics of today is not purely
cultural” (Gidron & Hall 2017)
• Considering attitudes, it’s more surprising that people didn’t
vote for the populist radical right, than that they do now
• Core electorate everywhere white working-class men
• They have experienced a relative, perceived loss of social
and economic status as a group
• The populist right exploits this resentment
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