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The Rise of Populism - An empirical analysis

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A fascinating, fair and informative piece from the Guardian, on the rise of populism in political discourse.


Interestingly, based on an AI textural analysis of political leaders around the globe, the most populist leaders are on the left.  This is particularly the case in the Americas, although in Europe populism is more prevalent on the right.

The first question I pondered was how is populism defined?

Usefully, they provide links to the organisation that did the research, which publishes some good information on their methodology.  The report describes how they analyse speeches to determine whether they are more populist, or its opposite, pluralist. Worth a look.

https://populism.byu.edu/App_Data/Publications/Populism codebook_The New Populism 201903 (2).pdf

Broadly speaking, populist speeches focus on dualistic concepts of good vs evil,  morality, fundamental values, historical narratives and grand visions.  They  are more likely to abuse or exaggerate data to make a point, and use more incendiary or condescending terms to describe their opponents.  

Pluralist speeches focus more on specific issues and policies, respects democratic discourse and the rights of others to make their point, and often avoids referring to the opponents at all so as not to lower the tone of the debate.

In the current political climate, with general dissatisfaction with the status quo increasing around the world,  it's interesting to think about whether this is being exacerbated by populism, or whether populism a natural response to the circumstances.  

And is populist rhetoric being used more in defence of, or in opposition to, the status quo? 

Regarding Brexit, Nigel Farage was often labeled "populist" by the Remain side, but under the definitions above, was he really? Weren't Remain using more populist language?

Socrates opposed the sophist rhetoric of his opponents, and would probably have described them as populist, since it's certainly true that sophistry focuses on gaining popular support in a debate, rather than reaching the underlying truth. But is a rise of populist discourse inevitable when the problems facing the world are so complex and multi faceted?  

In a complex world, a lot, if not most people vote on gut instinct, based on the information available, and isn't populist rhetoric simply an appeal to this kind of decision making? 

Are there times when populism can be a good thing, if major changes of political direction are required to avoid travelling further down the wrong path?   Or indeed to defend an established political order that is in danger of taking a new, dangerous path?  After all, without the support at the polls, there's no chance to instigate change or defend an important political position.

But if so, how does one reign it in again, to avoid deepening the political divide, or will that happen naturally once key political rubicons have been crossed?


Edited by MvR

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25 minutes ago, GBDamo said:

*couldn't figure out how to use it to confirm my biases. 

I'm not sure either.. though I think it's useful to have a clear definition of what populism actually is.  It's a term that's been thrown around quite often.

I suppose the import thing is to recognise it, to help us know whether we're being persuaded via our certainty seeking, left brain faculties, which can be very convinced by details but come to very wrong conclusions if the data is false or distorted.. or our holistic, big-picture thinking, right brain.. which may be better at setting overall direction as it takes into account broader concepts and takes as a matter of faith that the details can be worked out later on. 

Maybe the best way is to take both into account.. If the discourse is populist, we need to check to see if the details stack up, and if the discourse is pluralistic, we should step back and try to see the broader direction of travel. 

6 minutes ago, spunko said:

Interesitng. But who will work in Pret?

Robot sandwich dispensing machines probably, the way things are going!

Edited by MvR

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