Support for populist sentiment in Europe has fallen dramatically in the last three years, according to a major YouGov poll, with notably fewer people agreeing with key statements designed to measure it.
The YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project’s annual populism tracker, produced with The Guardian, found populist beliefs in a sustained decline overall in 10 European countries, leading its authors to suggest that the wider electoral appeal of some may have peaked.
Political scientists said the latest results showed “a clear pattern of declining support for populism,” but added that the results could mask a greater degree of radicalization among populist voters and that the pandemic could be a factor.
In France, the percentage of adults who said they believe that “the will of the people should be the highest principle in the politics of this country,” a key populist principle, fell from 66% in 2019 to 62% in 2020 and 55% in 2021, the survey found.
Other EU countries that showed the same sharp drop were Germany (66%, 63%, 61%), Denmark (61%, 56%, 50%), Spain (75%, 68%, 65%), Italy ( 72%, 71%, 64%) and Poland (80%, 71%, 65%), as well as – outside the bloc – like Great Britain (66%, 60%, 56%).
Populism, which frames politics as a battle between ordinary people and corrupt elites, has grown rapidly as a political force, and support for populist parties in Europe’s national elections rose from 7% to more than 25% in 20 years.
Populist leaders, mainly from the extreme right (the Italian Matteo Salvini, the French Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orbán in Hungary or the Swede Jimmie Åkesson) have flourished and the populist parties are, or have been, in the government of several countries of the EU.
Support for the view that “my country is divided between ordinary people and the corrupt elites who exploit them” fell from 61% to 49% in France, and also fell in Germany (54% -46%), Sweden ( 42% -36%), Denmark (29% -15), Spain (70% -65%), Italy (65% -54%), Poland (73% -63%) and the United Kingdom (58% to 54 %).
Agreement with the statement that “much important information is deliberately hidden from the public for self-interest” was also lower over the three years, between six and 17 percentage points in the same countries, although it remained high in some, such as Spain (79 %).
Matthijs Rooduijn, a political sociologist at the University of Amsterdam and an expert on populism, said the poll, of more than 24,000 voters in 22 different countries, showed “a clear drop” in support for populist ideas over the past three years.
But while he suggested that voters, on average, seemed to become more moderate and less receptive to populist ideas, “the small group of people who vote for radical right-wing populist parties, for example, may have become more radical – more populist. what less ”.
Rooduijn also said that some of the remarks could take advantage of anti-expert and anti-elite sentiments that had been dampened by the coronavirus pandemic, which, while it had pushed minority groups like anti-vaccines to become more extreme, had tended. to build trust. in science and, to a certain extent, in governments. “That is already changing,” he said.
Despite concerns about the increasing prevalence of conspiracy theories during the Covid-19 pandemic, several countries in the study also showed an overall sustained drop in the proportion of people defending conspiracy sentiments.
Support for the belief that “the power of a few special interests prevents our country from moving forward,” for example, fell from 72% to 58% in France, also losing five percentage points in Germany, nine in Sweden, 15 in Denmark. , 10 in Spain, 12 in Italy and 11 in Poland and the United Kingdom.
While several non-EU countries, including Brazil and Mexico, showed a similar pattern, others, including India, Thailand, and more particularly the US, where there was little change in overall levels according to any of the Survey statements for three survey years – did not.
The authors of the survey, which was carried out in August and September, suggested that this may mean that “certain forms of discontent against the system” were more entrenched in those countries.
But the fact that between 2019 and 2021 no significant trends have emerged showing that populist sentiment is heading the other way “perhaps suggests that the prestige of populist-style beliefs has already peaked in various parts of the world.” they pointed out.
The poll again found that Denmark stood out as something of a bastion of anti-populist sentiment, with surprisingly low levels agreeing with most of the statements compared to other countries.
Only 8% of respondents in Denmark, for example, agreed with the statement “you can tell if a person is good or bad from his politics”, 18% think that special interests impede progress and development. 15% the opinion that their country was divided between ordinary people and corrupt elites.
The survey also showed that when it comes to the practical consequences of a populist approach to politics, such as the Brexit vote in the UK, many Europeans tend to take a more neutral view.
When asked how Britain’s exit from the EU had affected the bloc’s economic situation and unity, respondents in the 10 European countries (including the UK) who were surveyed mostly said it hadn’t made a difference. general by no means.
It should be noted, however, that they were more likely to have a negative view than a positive view. Only 6% in Germany, for example, thought that Brexit had made the remaining EU member states more united, compared to a fifth (20%) who said they did the opposite.
Similarly, 37% in Spain believed that Brexit had hurt the EU economically, compared to just 8% who thought it had left the bloc in a better situation.
The survey was carried out between August 4 and September 21 with representative samples of more than 1,000 people in 10 European countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom and 17 other countries, including Australia. United States, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, Russia, China, Japan and South Africa.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism