Why do many populist movements manage to assemble coalitions of societal groups that cut across ideological and socio-economic divides? In a new Registered Report that has now received in-principle acceptance, Nils Steiner, Christian Schimpf and myself argue: All of the groups that constitute the populist coalition share a feeling of lacking societal recognition – but for very different reasons.
It is a curious aspect of today’s populism that its ideological core considers society as a homogenous entity but at the same time populist movements are particularly successful in uniting segments of the population that are very different from each other.
Our attempt at explaining this fact builds on the popular thesis that supporters of populist parties feel “left behind”, but we try to put it on more solid conceptual footing. We propose a more specific, inherently multidimensional conceptualization of feeling “left behind” as the perception of being denied the societal recognition one deserves. Our synthesis of literature from philosophy, psychology and the social sciences characterizes societal recognition as a fundamental human desire whose thwarting leads to self-defensive reactions with political implications such as populist attitudes. And because there are many pathways to the perception of lacking recognition, feeling “left behind” may unite different groups who have been characterized as supporters of populism: people in routine jobs who perceive a lack recognition for the work they do (Sandel, 2021), conservatives who feel alienated by cultural changes in society (Norris/Inglehart) or those living in “left behind” rural places (Broz, Frieden and Weymouth, 2021; Harteveld et al., 2021).
Besides the theoretical argument, what I personally like about this paper is the format: We test this proposition of lacking societal recognition as the common cause of populist sentiments in diverse segments of society in a Registered Report format as part of the GLES OpenScience challenge for the German Political Science Quarterly. This means that our study underwent the ordinary peer review process – but before data was even available. It was judged solely on theoretical merits and the appropriateness of the research design — not whether we generated spectacular, surprising or clean findings.