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PSA Keynote: The Enemy Within: The Populist-Authoritarian Challenge to Western Democracies

  • Strathclyde University Technology & Innovation Centre (Main Entrance), 99 George Street Glasgow, G1 1RD UK (map)

Keynote talk at the Political Studies Association of the UK (PSA) annual conference

Where: Main Auditorium, Technology and Innovation Centre building, Strathclyde University, Glasgow, Scotland

When: Tuesday 11th April 2017 11.30-12.30

The Enemy Within: The Populist-Authoritarian Challenge to Western Democracies

Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart



Abstract: Rising support for Populist-Authoritarian parties has disrupted the politics and undermined the democracy of many Western societies. What explains this phenomenon? Two theories are examined here. Perhaps the most widely-held view of mass support for these parties -- the economic insecurity perspective--emphasizes the consequences of profound changes transforming the workforce and society in post-industrial economies. Alternatively, the cultural backlash thesis suggests that support can be explained as a reaction against cultural changes that threaten the worldview of once-predominant sectors of the population. Cosmopolitan-Liberal values have gained in Western societies, especially among Millennials. But Populist-Authoritarianism receives strongest support from the Interwar generation, who are also a disproportionate share of the voting electorate deciding the outcome. To consider these arguments, Part I outlines the theoretical framework. Part II of the study defines the concept of Populist-Authoritarianism and draws on the 2014 Chapel Hill Expert Survey (CHES) to identify the ideological location of 268 political parties in 31 European countries. Part III employs the pooled European Social Survey Rounds 1-7 (2002-2014) to examine the cross-national evidence for the impact of the economic insecurity and cultural values as predictors of voting for Populist-Authoritarian parties. The conclusion in Part IV summarizes the key findings and considers their implications for Brexit and beyond. Overall, we find consistent evidence supporting the cultural backlash thesis.

Pippa Norris is the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Harvard University, the Laureate Professor of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney, and Director of the Electoral Integrity Project. Details: