Friday, 27 October 2017

IPSG Workshop: "Actions and Reactions: On the dynamics of competition between populist challengers and mainstream parties in Europe today"

The Italian Politics Specialist Group is pleased to announce the following workshop:

Actions and Reactions:
On the dynamics of competition between populist challengers and mainstream parties in Europe today

22-23 January 2018
University of Birmingham
Room: 429, fourth floor, Muirhead Tower

A Workshop organised by the PSA’s Italian Politics Specialist Group (IPSG),
the “Parties, Voters and Elections Research Group” of the Department of Political Science and International Studies of the University of Birmingham, and the Department of Politics and International Relations at Aston University.

REGISTRATION: the workshop is free, but available places are limited. Those wishing to attend should contact Prof. James L. Newell ( by 13 November 2017.

Day 1: 22 January

12:30-1:30pm – Welcome Lunch
1:30-3:15pm – SESSION 1
Chair and discussant: Dr Daniele Albertazzi (University of Birmingham; IPSG co-convenor)
Emilie van Haute (Université libre de Bruxelles): Responses of mainstream parties to populist radical right
With the recent surge in support for far-right populist parties, xenophobia and nativism have suddenly become more mainstream across Europe. The far-right’s success has put fundamental civil and political liberties under threat at home, especially for visible minorities, and raised the question of how more mainstream parties should react to these extremists. Should they refuse to cooperate with the far-right and seek to isolate them from power? Or, should they accept them as legitimate democratic actors and include them in the political process? This study examines this question, focusing in particular on how isolation or inclusion strategies matter for the far-right’s support. Drawing on the four waves of the Comparative Study of Electoral Systems data set and examining both party thermometer ratings and vote choice over time, we find that strategy matters.

Maurits Meijers and Andrej Zaslove (Radboud University): Creating a reliable and valid measurement of political parties' populism
The conceptual debate on the analytical concept of populism has produced a great number of definitions. The classification of populist or non-populist parties often depends on the specific definition one chooses. With an expert survey, we attempt to measure the constitutive ideological and representative traits of parties as specified by the dominant definitions of populism in the literature. Relying on a high number of party-based populism experts per country, this expert survey attempts to harness a conceptual consensus that is essential for the study of populism. Moreover, the results of the expert survey will allow us to compare the empirical repercussions of different definitions of populism. For instance, do ideology-based or style-based definitions of populism yield a different selection of populist parties? Moreover, factor analysis techniques will allow us to devise a minimalist definition of populism on the basis of quantitative indicators. The paper will assess the preliminary results of a pilot study conducted in the Netherlands by mapping the different empirical configurations produced by the different common definitions of populism.

3:15-3:45pm – Coffee Break

3:45-5:30pm – SESSION 2
Chair and discussant: Prof. James L. Newell (University of Salford; IPSG Chair)
Gilles Ivaldi (University of Nice): Crowding the market: the dynamics of populist and mainstream competition in the 2017 French presidential elections
The 2017 French presidential elections have seen a considerable rise in support for populist actors at the periphery of the party system, challenging the dominance of the more established parties of the mainstream. The electoral success of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s France Insoumise (LFI) has expanded the political space for populist politics to the left of the political spectrum, competing with Marine Le Pen’s Front national (FN) to the right. Meanwhile, the emergence of Emmanuel Macron as a politically viable centrist alternative has dislodged further the traditional bipolar dynamics of competition in French politics, resulting in a significant reshaping of the party system. Based on a national survey of French voters conducted in 2017, this paper will examine the dynamics of electoral support for populist candidates in the presidential election, looking at commonalities and differences between the left and right-wing manifestations of the populist phenomenon, and to which extent these differed from the mainstream. In doing so, the paper will position itself in the current comparative literature on populism, addressing in particular how populism interacts with other dimensions of competition, most notably globalization and European integration which were paramount in the 2017 elections in France.

Jim Shields (Aston University): Populism at the Polls: France's Presidential and Parliamentary Elections
The French presidential election of 2017 was both a victory and a defeat for Marine Le Pen’s far-right populist campaign ‘Au nom du peuple’. The victory was the Front National leader’s second-place finish among 11 presidential candidates; the defeat lay in Emmanuel Macron’s run-off win by 66% to Le Pen’s 34%. This paper analyses the strengths and weaknesses both of Le Pen in the presidential poll and of her party in the parliamentary elections that followed. What do these elections tell us about the current challenge and prospects of far-right populism in France? Does 2017, with 10.6 million votes for Le Pen, mark a high point or just one more stage in the FN’s rise? The paper will consider the FN’s electoral strategy and reach. It will also look beyond the elections to the difficulties the FN has encountered since, with questions raised over Le Pen’s continued leadership and over the durability of the FN’s populist appeal within the shifting dynamics of electoral competition in France.

7 pm – DINNER

Day 2: 23 January
9:00-10:45 – SESSION 3
Chair and discussant: Dr Davide Vampa (Aston University; IPSG Member)
Paolo Graziano (University of Padova) and Manuela Caiani (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa): Party Realignment, Economic Crisis and Varieties of Populism in Europe
The paper examines how the recent economic and political crisis within the EU has affected the diffusion or consolidation of varieties of populisms in Europe, making this category increasingly difficult to be attributed only to some specific (ideologically determined) political parties. Focusing on several current empirical cases of populisms in various European countries, we will try to disentangle the role of the crisis with respect to other variables referred to party (system) change - such as party realignment and party system restructuring – to the growing electoral strength of populist parties in Europe. The general hypothesis which inspires the article is that the redefinition of Western parties (Mair, 2013) has offered opportunities for the emergence of populist parties, whereas the crisis has provided a specific opportunity for their consolidation. The paper will test this hypothesis by a) mapping populist parties currently existing in Europe, and classifying them according to different ’types of populisms’ (especially in terms of inclusionary and exclusionary types: Mudde and Kaltwasser, 2013); b) analysing the relationship between the economic crisis and the recent evolution of party systems in all 28 EU countries.

Kyriaki Nanou (University of Nottingham): Economic crisis and the rise of welfare nationalism across the EU
Nationalism has been criticised as an irrational doctrine associated with some of the most violent right-wing movements of the 20th century. Because it tends to be understood in terms of ethnic exclusion, nationalism is considered a prerogative of radical right-wing parties. This view is based on the problematic assumption that nationalism is always extreme. Observing the current economic crisis, we discern the rise of nationalism as a broader phenomenon cutting across party lines and spatial boundaries, suggesting that economic crises need not necessarily generate a radical right-wing variety of nationalism, but rather a nationalism that can also be found in the mainstream. This paper hypothesizes that the current economic crisis has triggered nationalist rhetoric among European political elites aimed at facilitating solidarity within countries but not between EU member states. Mainstream parties have capitalised on the issue of who should be entitled to the collective goods of the state, thus linking the economic crisis with the immigration issue: what we term ‘welfare nationalism’. To test this argument, we examine whether an increase in nationalist rhetoric from parties has contributed to a rise in nationalist attitudes amongst citizens. We combine cross-national survey data with data on party positions to analyse the relationship between them.

10:45-11:15am – Coffee Break
Chair and discussant: Dr Arianna Giovannini (De Montfort University; IPSG co-convenor)
Caterina Froio and Bharath Ganesh (Oxford Internet Institute): The transnational dimension of Far right Islamophobia on Twitter
While an increasing number of contributions addresses the topic of Islamophobia and transnationalism in far right politics, few systematic investigations exist on the discourses favored in transnational anti-Islam exchanges on social media. Building on the literature on far right politics, opposition to Islam, transnationalism and the Internet, the paper addresses this gap by studying the issues that are favored to oppose Islam in online exchanges between audiences of far right organizations across France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. We use a new dataset on the activities and audiences of far right Twitter users that is analyzed through a mixed methods approach. Using Social Network Analysis, we detect transnational anti-Islam links between far right organizations across countries based on retweets from audiences of far right Twitter users. Retweets are qualitatively coded for content and compared to the content retweeted within national communities. Finally, using a logistic regression, we quantify the level to which specific anti-Islam issues enjoy high levels of attention across borders. Subsequently we use discourse analysis to qualitatively reconstruct the interpretative frames accompanying these patterns. We find that although social media are often ascribed much power in favoring transnational anti-Islam exchanges between far right organizations, there is little evidence of this. Only few dimensions of the opposition to Islam (security and Islamization of Europe) garner transnational far right audiences on Twitter. In addition, we find that more than the parties themselves, leaders play a prominent role in the construction of a transnational anti-Islam far right discourse.

Pietro Castelli (Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa) and Lorenzo Zamponi (EUI): Contested borders: pro- and anti-refugee movements in Italy
The increase in asylum applications over the past years set in motion two interrelated processes across European societies: on the one hand, the radical right mobilized to ‘defend the borders’ of Europe, promoting institutional and extra-parliamentary initiatives against refugees; on the other, a wide set of grassroots actions in solidarity with asylum-seekers were promoted by left-progressive movements at the national and transnational level. Thus far, however, very little research has looked into the competitive interaction between these two camps. Conversely, we consider the recent dynamic as a potentially fruitful chance to overcome a known limit of social movement studies – the tendency to focus on individual movements as isolated actors – and investigate the reciprocal influence of the opposing movements. Accordingly, the paper offers an in-depth analysis of movement-countermovement dynamics in the wake of the ‘refugee crisis’ in Italy. What are the main frames and repertoires of action promoted by the pro-refugee and anti-refugee camps? To what extent their choices have been shaped by initiatives taken by their opponents? How did they attempt to limit the expansion and resonance of the opposing camp and its influence on mainstream actors and narratives? Based on new empirical data from over 40 face-to-face interviews with activists from anti-immigration as well as solidarity groups in Italy, we show that discursive opportunities and interaction with the state contributed to shaping the frames of both movements around similar resonant themes, although triggering conflicting interpretations and distinct repertoires of action. Furthermore, our analysis shows a visible interaction between the two movements, with the pro-refugee camp often intervening in reaction to initiative of the opposite front. While the pro-refugee movement effectively mobilized in solidarity to asylum seekers, intervening in situations perceived as critical, it was considerably less successful in countering the hegemonic frames promoted by anti-immigration and populist right-wing coalitions.

Yaprak Gürsoy: The Peculiarities of Turkish Populism: Nationalism, Neoliberalism, Strong Party Organization and Authoritarianism
The electoral successes of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, first as the Prime Minister (between 2003 and 2014) and then as the President (since 2014) of Turkey have been attributed partly to his populist appeal. Indeed, the antagonistic and divisive style of Erdoğan is similar to other populist leaders in Europe as identified by the literature. Yet, this paper argues that, in four respects the Turkish variant differs from other the European cases. First, Turkish populism is nationalist, but not anti-immigrant. Non-Turkish citizens within the country, such as the Kurds, are seen as the “other” although Sunni Muslims from Syria have been welcomed. Second, Turkish populism has been following neoliberal, free trade policies rather than advocating protectionist and socialist or mixed economic policies.  Third, Erdoğan’s appeal relies not only on his personal charisma but also on strong, grass-roots party organization of the Justice and Development Party (JDP), with high mobilization capacity. Finally, the electoral successes of the JDP and its mobilization against the 15 July 2016 coup attempt have led Erdoğan and the governing party to dismantle democratic institutions further and attempt to consolidate competitive authoritarianism. The paper shows that these four attributes of populism, together, do not exist in other European countries, which makes Turkish populism under Erdoğan’s leadership a different, if not a peculiar, case.

1:15-2:00 – Lunch
2:00-3:00pm – Final Roundtable & Concluding Remarks

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Europe’s populist tide has turned – leaving Brexit Britain washed up

Italy’s elections are the latest sign of many that populist insurgent parties are losing their grip. The European Union is growing stronger, argues James Newell** 

Riding the tide of popular protest against established institutions and parties, Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S) came to prominence in 2012, promising a new form of nonideological politics based on direct democracy and opposition to elites. In local elections earlier this month it came a poor third in most of the 160 larger municipalities where voting took place, making it through to the runoff ballots, held at the weekend, in only 10 cases.
True, in these cases it did well, winning in eight of them. But there was nothing unusual about this, for it is a protest party drawing support from across the left-right spectrum. So it almost always does well in runoffs. The headline result has been the success not of M5S but of the centre right, along with the increased vote share of the two established (centre-right and centre-left) coalitions. This is not dissimilar to what happened in the UK on 8 June, when the Ukip vote collapsed.

M5S has been quite resilient in the face of evidence that seems to fly in the face of its claim to stand for a new, more honest politics. But this time it has been handicapped by a lack of well-known faces, by its disastrous administration of Rome, and by internal conflicts. As it has penetrated political institutions, it has been called upon to make choices it could avoid as a mere protest movement, shouting from the outside.

As elsewhere in Europe, the Italian populists have found themselves grappling with the classic dilemma that arises when such parties join coalitions: do they make concessions in the interests of stability, hoping thereby to retain the support of moderates? Or do they threaten government stability so as not to lose the support of diehards?

They have suffered as a consequence, and the pattern is repeated elsewhere. In Norway, the Progress party has slipped back in opinion polls from the 16.3% of the vote it won in 2013, having been damaged by its unsympathetic response to the refugee crisis as well as its record in government. In Latvia, the National Alliance has seen a steady decline in its poll ratings, down to 9.1% from the 16.6% it won in 2014. In Finland, support for the Finns party dropped from 17.7% to 10.7% over just six months in 2015.

Though a number of western democracies have recently seen elections or referenda that have been widely dubbed as “populist revolts”, much depends, in interpreting the outcomes, on one’s chosen points of reference. Nothing makes this clearer than the result achieved by Corbyn’s Labour last month: yes he lost, but he has been immeasurably strengthened because he did so much better than expected. Trump, who by contrast won, did better than expected; but still, he lost the popular vote by some 2 million. Norbert Hofer, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen were all decisively beaten.

All these results have significant implications for the outcome of the Brexit negotiations and the future of Europe. On the one hand, governments under pressure from anti-establishment parties may be tempted to resist concessions to the UK in order not to encourage anti-European forces within their own borders.

On the other hand, if the growth of such forces has reached a peak, as recent results suggest they may have done, then the size of the obstacles in the way of European integration ambitions has been reduced. Either way, the European project is perhaps more secure than has been widely assumed; and it would still be relatively secure even if parties such as M5S were to find themselves doing better than they have done this week. In government, M5S would be uniquely badly placed to withstand the threats deriving from the capital flight and economic turmoil its promise of a referendum on Italy’s membership of the euro would probably bring. And it would have to overcome a whole series of constitutional obstacles (not least the ban on referenda on international treaties) in order to hold such a vote in the first place.

At a time of uncertainty, when even the smallest political shifts can seem portentous, last Sunday’s local elections in Italy bode well for Europe. The same cannot be said for the UK which now looks likely, in the event of Brexit, to find itself left out of an EU that is increasingly integrated, and increasingly powerful.

** This blog post was originally published on 27 June 2017 in The Guardian

Monday, 5 June 2017

Populists are not taking over Europe, but neither are they on the way out

Populists must be taken seriously as builders of organisations, shapers of political agendas and, increasingly, as parties in power - argues Daniele Albertazzi.**

The political developments of the last year or so have inspired a flurry of articles and analyses on the future of populism in Europe. However, too often the term “populism” is deployed in inconsistent, loose and undefined ways; moreover, the commentary tends to be characterised by unfounded claims about, either the populists’ alleged successes, or indeed their impending demise.

Populism is not the attempt to put forward “popular” proposals, nor is it about appealing to emotions during campaigns, or else every politician should by default be called a “populist” and the term would become useless. Moreover, the essence of populism is not necessarily overpromising. Whether we conceive of populism as a “thin”, simplistic ideology attaching itself to other ideologies (for instance, socialism and nationalism), or “just” a rhetorical style, its core argument is that the people, depicted as virtuous and homogeneous, are always pitted against a set of elites, who are depriving the people of everything they own - from their material wealth to their very identity. In other words, the core of populism is its anti-establishment rhetoric and anti-elitism.

Following the events leading to Brexit and Donald Trump’s victory in the USA, it may be understandable to find so many commentators buying into a narrative whereby Europe would be on the verge of being “swept” by a populist tide. This narrative often reveals the Anglo-centric perspective of its proponents, as it is predicated on an understanding of political competition whereby only two/three actors can have a go at forming the government, usually on their own. But since the majority of European electoral systems have strong elements of proportionality, and in several of them (such as, for instance France, Germany, Belgium and, more recently, also the Netherlands) mainstream parties would find it very difficult to engage in forms of collaboration with their populist competitors, the picture on our continent seems in fact more nuanced. This, however, does not mean, as some commentators have concluded after Macron’s victory in the French Presidential election, that populism must now have “peaked”, let alone that it is on the way out. Assertions of this kind are not substantiated by the electoral data, nor indeed by a simple consideration of how often populists have been included in governing coalitions in recent years.

As far as elections are concerned, European populist parties have quite simply seen their vote share increase steadily and consistently since the 1970s. Even the recent and much discussed “defeats” that populists are alleged to have suffered in the Netherlands, France and Austria were very honourable indeed. Geert Wilders’ Party of Freedom increased its tally of seats, the Austrian Norbert Gerwald Hofer came very close to being elected President of his country with 46 per cent of the vote, and Marine Le Pen attracted a much higher vote share than her father ever did when attempting to capture the French Presidency in the past.

As for populists accessing governments, all the signs are that they have a realistic hope to go on being included in government coalitions in several countries in the future.This has happened on numerous occasions in the recent past, and shrinking support for moderate parties militates in favour of populists remaining “coalitionable”.

Indeed, in countries as diverse as Italy, Greece, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Hungary, Poland, and others, this has happened fairly recently - not to mention nations such as Denmark and again, the Netherlands, in which populists have provided essential external support to executives. If this were not enough, in many European countries it is the populist parties that are now the most seasoned and durable parties of all, sometimes benefiting from very rooted and efficient organisations. In other words, they are most certainly not “new” challengers – quite the opposite in fact.

The time has therefore come to take populists seriously as builders of organizations, shapers of political agendas and, increasingly, as parties in power. Their success may be far from inevitable, but they are definitely here to stay.

**this blog was originally published on the University of Birmingham website.