Populism is best described rather than defined, because it does not have specific context, except for a promise of addressing the needs of the neglected masses. Its concept promotes the idea that the political divide is between the morally upright masses and the corrupt ruling elite.
The division is built on the premise that those who rose to political power are dependent on the support provided by their political party as well as beholden to the elite who donated funds for their political campaign. As a result, traditional politicians whether right or left wing, tend to legislate based on the political goals of his or her party, which often times are for the benefit of the elite rather than the ordinary masses.
Reasons Why Populist Leaders are Chosen
Support for populist leaders rise if there are critical reasons that influence voters from detaching their politics from a traditional political party.
The Director of the European Consortium of Political Research (ECPR), Martin Bull, explained that the swell in support for populist parties in Europe, started to happen between 2008 and 2011, when the banking crisis in European countries transformed into sovereign debt crisis.
Widespread corruption is the most common reason that makes voters in Europe turn to populist leaders. This is exactly what happened in Slovakia in the country’s recent presidential elections. The killing of a young investigative reporter who had been investigating a high profile corruption case, enraged a country that was already calling for reforms aimed at eradicating political corruptions in the government.
The Slovakian people’s anger translated into overwhelming votes that catapulted a politically inexperienced, female environmental lawyer into becoming Slovakia’s first woman president.
Concerns and Issues Against Populism
Although populism is regarded as akin to democracy, it is not by itself without fault. Dr. Bull argues that when people no longer trust an established system, strongman leaders may emerge. As an authoritarian leader, many make promises to introduce changes, which when scrutinized may not be as feasible as had been projected.
Populist leader Donald Trump promised jobs to millions of unemployed Americans by limiting the influx of migrants, and by preventing undocumented immigrants from entering the country. He argues that doing so will lessen competition over employment opportunities intended for natural born Americans.
However, Trump’s promise did not include addressing issues on why many of America’s natural-born citizens are competing for low-paying jobs that do not require skilled workers; or why not many Americans can afford higher education that will enable them to qualify for high-paying careers.
As critics of populism put it, often times promises of populist leaders contain only a few grains of truth.