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The overall focus of this paper is on developing a framework to explain support for alternative politics of a populist type. It has often been argued that the increasing focus on scandals and corruption has done much to alienate voters from traditional politics and that this alienation has, in turn, been reflected in what might be termed a ‘soap‐operatisation’ of politics, with an attendant diminution of trust in political institutions. We contend that, while reducing political events to variants of soap‐operas (with the demystification and banalisation of politics to which this gives rise) has had profound effects on the public perception of the political and political institutions, the result may not be simply a lack of, or diminution of, trust in politicians and political institutions, but rather a parallel growth in cynicism. The paper argues that while cynicism is often assumed to be a component of the decline in trust in institutions the two are, in fact, different and can give rise to different manifestations. We address the difference between the two concepts and develop a hypothesis that contends that supporters of populist alternatives can be located within two attitudinal clusters. We argue that, with respect to populist politicians and populist political parties, a cynical view of politics and political institutions will tend to produce individuals who support what we term ‘political entrepreneurs’, while a real distrust in institutions will translate into support for a more traditional populism of the radical right.
Trust, Cynicism and Populist Anti-Politics
Catherine Fieschi and Paul Heywood
The overall focus of this paper is on developing a framework to explain support for
alternative politics of a populist type. It has often been argued that the increasing focus on
scandals and corruption has done much to alienate voters from traditional politics and that this
alienation has, in turn, been reflected in what might be termed a ‘soap-operatisation’ of
politics, with an attendant diminution of trust in political institutions. We contend that, while
reducing political events to variants of soap-operas (with the demystification and banalisation
of politics to which this gives rise) has had profound effects on the public perception of the
political and political institutions, the result may not be simply a lack of, or diminution of,
trust in politicians and political institutions, but rather a parallel growth in cynicism. The
paper argues that while cynicism is often assumed to be a component of the decline in trust in
institutions the two are, in fact, different and can give rise to different manifestations. We
address the difference between the two concepts and develop a hypothesis which contends
that supporters of populist alternatives can be located within two attitudinal clusters. We
argue that, with respect to populist politicians and populist political parties, a cynical view of
politics and political institutions will tend to produce individuals who support what we term
‘political entrepreneurs’, while a real distrust in institutions will translate into support for a
more traditional populism of the radical right.
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
Trust, Cynicism and Populist Anti-Politics
Catherine Fieschi and Paul Heywood
The conventional explanation of the rise of populist parties in Western Europe is premised on
the pivotal role of popular disillusionment with mainstream political parties. Amongst the
principal reasons adduced for such disillusionment is the perceived rise of corruption, which
is believed to be particularly damaging for democratic legitimacy:
One of the dangers of political scandals is that they can help to produce an
attitude of deep distrust among some sectors of the population, leading to
diminishing levels of interest and participation. (…) And a society in which
significant sectors of the population have effectively given up their stake in
the political process, turning their backs on a political system they judge to
be irredeemably flawed or corrupt, is not a society with a strong and
vibrant democracy.
The argument we seek to develop in this paper is that such an understanding fails to capture a
much more complex set of relationships between corruption, trust and the rise of populism.
Rather than an argument in which corruption is identified as the primary trigger for alienation
from mainstream politics, we argue instead that:
a. trust in the public institutions which comprise what we term ‘political space’
(political parties, government departments, the media, etc.) is dependent on a clear
understanding of their role and where their legitimate boundaries lie;
b. corruption scandals, and the way they are instrumentalised and mediated through the
press and television have a key impact on the perceived boundaries of public
institutions, either reinforcing or blurring traditional lines of demarcation between the
political class, the media, the judiciary and corporate interests;
c. if these lines of demarcation are reinforced, then disillusionment with mainstream
politics is likely to lead to what we term traditional alienated populism, whereas a
blurring of these lines creates opportunities for the emergence of what we term
entrepreneurial populism;
d. where trust in public institutions remains relatively high, even in spite of corruption
scandals, populist alternatives of either type are unlikely to prosper.
Our argument therefore seeks to do two things: first, to begin to unravel the complex links
and processes between trust, institutions and populist mobilisation; second, to account for the
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
emergence of two very different types of populism in western Europe. More broadly, this
paper is concerned with the conditions that favour the emergence of populist parties and the
type of voter attitude and attendant populist mobilisation to which different political contexts
give rise.
The paper is structured in five sections. In the first, we outline the distinction between lack of
trust and cynicism, building on Sartori’s analysis of anti-system parties. The second section
looks in more detail at the issue of trust and its relationship to institutions, while in the third
section we discuss the political instrumentalisation of scandals and the crucial role of the
media in creating a climate in which populist parties may prosper . Section four discusses in
greater depth different forms of populism, and in the final section we present evidence
derived from data provided in the third wave European Values Study 1999/2000 and the first
two waves of the World Values Survey. The data analysis represents a preliminary attempt to
provide empirical support for our argument, and at this stage we draw only broad conclusions
from it. Our contention, however, is that there does appear to be some basis for arguing that
entrepreneurial populism on the one hand, and more traditional right-wing populism on the
other, draw their support from voters with different attitudinal and value profiles.
If trust plays a crucial role in the structuring of the relationship between individuals and
institutions, and institutions in turn structure individuals’ relationships to the world of politics
and to political choice,
then our understanding of support for populism must incorporate
recent work on the concept of trust.
This is important because it points to what remains a
rather grey area in studies of ideological and political support, namely the role of emotions.
Politics is not just about what people think--it is also about what they believe and what they
feel; indeed, populism relies, above all else, on an emotional appeal. It plays on a variety of
emotions: anger, outrage, disgust, a sense of betrayal, a sense of loyalty. Whilst the same
may be true of other mobilisational devices, populism does so in a manner that is more direct
and thus more strident. It appeals to what some Americans would call ‘gut’ politics, and does
so unashamedly. In fact, populism defines itself in part by accepting this emotional, non-
intellectual characterisation which helps it remain on the outside of mainstream politics.
What we seek to do in this paper, therefore, is to provide the basis of a potential research
1. Lack of trust versus cynicism: why being ‘anti’ is only half the story
Much of the literature on right-wing populism (be it on the extremes of the right or not),
refers to populist parties as ‘anti-system’.
The concept of an ‘anti-system party’ goes back to
Sartori’s classic taxonomy, but the label fails fully to capture the complexity of the populist
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
Although it correctly points to the de-legitimising impact of populist parties,
the categorisation does not adequately address the variety of populist parties and the differing
nature of the support they mobilise. For Sartori, an anti-system party is – logically enough – a
party that is opposed to the system. These parties, writes Sartori, cover a wide range of
attitudes ‘ranging from alienation and total refusal to “protest”’.
What these different types
of anti-system parties have in common is their ‘de-legitimising impact’: all of these parties
‘share the property of questioning a regime and of undermining its base of support.
Accordingly, a party can be defined as anti-system whenever it undermines the legitimacy of
the regime it opposes. (…) the political system faces a crisis of legitimacy.’
Sartori further
goes on to distinguish between an opposition to issues and an opposition of principle. Anti-
system parties, according to this schema, fall squarely under the second heading.
However, we argue that whilst traditional populist parties such as the French Front National
or the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ) fall into this category of ‘principled opposition’, parties
such as Forza Italia draw their strength from a rather different type of opposition, which does
not really fit Sartori’s categorisation: the opposition represented by Forza Italia is not to the
concept of the Italian Republic (unlike in France, where the FN opposes the founding values
of French Republicanism), but rather to the workings of a specific instance of Italian
Republicanism. It is therefore neither principled opposition, nor merely an opposition to
issues. It is not anti-system, insofar as it does not seek to de-legitimise it, but rather to exploit
its weakened functioning, its inefficiencies. The opposition is of a particular type because,
rather than oppose the system, the strategy is to ‘play it’. In contrast to Sartori’s framework,
therefore, we seek to identify two very different anti-system approaches, at least one of which
has not been adequately categorised in the existing literature. Our argument is that the anti-
system parties of the Forza Italia type represent a new phenomenon which we term
‘entrepreneurial populism’, based on a re-assessed relationship between individuals and
institutions, which is in turn largely structured by the media.
A lack of trust in institutions has been blamed for both voter apathy and populist mobilisation.
It has also become widely accepted that generalised trust leads to a variety of social and
individual benefits and that declining levels of trust lead, correspondingly, to a loosening of
the social and political fabric. Explanations of the rise of right-wing populism - both in
academic debate and in the press - have made much of this, and rely increasingly on mantra-
like statements about the lack of trust in politicians caused by scandals and corruption, the
public’s disaffection with traditional representative institutions, and the role of populist
parties as receptacles for resentment and alienation in the face of untrustworthy institutions.
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
While much of this may well be accurate, two things are striking. The first is that the populist
politics to which we refer can look very different from one place to another. A leader such as
Silvio Berlusconi, for instance, has little to do with one such as Jean-Marie Le Pen, and their
voters differ radically. Also, the similarities between a Pym Fortuyn and a Jorg Haider are
tenuous. These politicians share enough so that the label ‘populist’ fits, if not like a glove,
then certainly like a useful pair of loose overalls, but what separates them is almost as
significant as what draws them together. We can discern at least two types of populism here:
one a ‘traditional populism’, led by anti-intellectual strong men with direct links to the very
robust right. The other, which we refer to as ‘entrepreneurial populism’, is also a right-wing
populism with leaders who may have a common touch, but in this case the leaders have been
highly successful in fields other than politics (often in business) and their rhetoric is far
removed from the strident anti-immigrant and xenophobic tenor of the traditional populists.
The second striking aspect of the contexts in which these parties arise is that, while voters
may be alienated from the institutions of democracy, some of them obviously still bother to
vote and, when polled, a large majority of them do trust their government to be democratic
and a democratic system to be the best form of political organisation.
Given this, we hypothesise that there are two types of reaction at play: lack of trust (or, in
Sartori’s terms, alienation) leading to traditional populism, on the one hand, and, cynicism
leading to entrepreneurial populism on the other. We contend that, while it may be a question
of degree rather than quality, the two give rise to very different politics. Lack of trust can be
summarised as an unwillingness to rely on, or make yourself vulnerable to, a particular party.
A lack of interpersonal trust would lead to a reluctance to place oneself in a vulnerable
position, one of potential loss or danger, with respect to another party: we do not trust that this
person will look out for our best interests and fear that they may disregard them or our safety.
A lack of generalised trust refers to our sense that relying upon groups of individuals who are
not personally known to us, or upon institutions, makes little sense and, again, places us in a
position in which our vulnerability might be exploited, or disregarded. In other words, lack of
trust leads to fear of being taken advantage of or instrumentalised--and ultimately to an
unwillingness to take any risks whatsoever. Eventually this leads to a declining spiral of
engagement with that particular individual or group of individuals and, finally to withdrawal
and, in the worst case, alienation.
Cynicism, however, presents different characteristics. Where lack of trust signals an
unwillingness to engage for fear of being ‘taken advantage of’, cynicism signifies a
willingness to engage, but with lower expectations. As cynics we expect to be disappointed,
we hold few hopes that our engagement will be rewarded to the extent or in the manner in
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
which we are promised it will be. So, I may not trust the institutions that structure political
life but I am willing to act as if I did because there is something to be gained from that
engagement - even if that gain is a perverse by-product of the system’s malfunctioning or
untrustworthiness. Cynicism is thus much stronger than the ‘healthy scepticism’ of the
‘knowing’ voter, who has a realistic sense of what can and cannot be achieved by politicians,
and happily subscribes to the Churchillian notion that democracy is the worst of all political
systems, except for all the others. Unlike the cynical voter, who has low expectations but
seeks some trade-off from participation, the healthy sceptic is more tolerant of the
imperfections of the democratic system and therefore more ready to abide by its face-value
rules and to accept its inevitable shortcomings. In order to explore these arguments, we have
focused mainly on the following European democracies: France and Austria, where
‘traditional populism’ has seen some success in the shape of Le Pen and Haider; Italy, where
‘entrepreneurial populism’ has prospered under Berlusconi; and Germany, Spain and the UK,
where neither traditional nor entrepreneurial populism has gained a strong foothold. Of
course, one could add other cases to each of these categories, and we make reference to
developments in the USA, but our principal concern is to test the plausibility of the
hypothesis and its potential for further research.
2. Trust and institutions
In studies of contemporary politics, trust is increasingly seen as playing a pivotal role - both
as the glue that holds functioning political and social communities together, as well as the
element which is held to minimise costly and painful conflict. A renewed focus on
institutions has led scholars to posit trust as a crucial variable when it comes to explaining the
workings and problems of different institutional contexts. Putnam’s seminal analysis and the
rise of social capital theory made trust the life-blood of society and its presence has come to
be seen as a sine qua non for healthy and productive exchanges, and flourishing and stable
But, to relate trust to institutions is problematic because trust is something that
we experience primarily on an inter-personal level. Hardin for example, goes as far as to
argue that it makes no sense to trust a specific institution or set of institutions because we do
not have sufficient knowledge of them to base our trust on anything significant.
It appears that there are at least two different types of trust at play: one type is rooted in
Hardin’s notion that we can only trust someone if we have reason to think that they will act in
our interest or ‘as our agent’, as Hardin puts it, on a specific matter. This is the case of
particularized trust. The other type of trust, however, which affects cooperative behaviour in
the larger society, is in fact based on the very opposite of Hardin’s premise, namely on the
assumption that an institution will be no one’s agent and will not act on behalf of particular
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
We place our trust in institutions precisely because we ‘trust’ that they will act
impartially. And this trust stems from the fact that while the outcome of an institutional
process may not be ‘in our favour’, the process itself was impartial. The nature of the process
therefore, is what in great part legitimates trust in an institution. For this trust in the process
to exist that process must be publicly debated, agreed upon and transparent throughout. Part
of the trust stems from our having been (however remotely) engaged in the process of
deciding upon the nature of the legitimate process to be adopted from now on.
As polities apparently became increasingly mired in corruption scandals, it seemed logical to
posit that the lower the trust in institutions, the higher the likely rate of abstention (as
seemingly evidenced by declining levels of electoral participation in many western
democracies). From this, it was but a small step to go on to posit that the lower the level of
trust in institutions, the higher the likelihood of a protest vote (for an anti-system party, for
example) against mainstream parties and politicians – and thus, in turn, the higher the
likelihood of the emergence and success of political options on the fringes of the system.
Dwindling levels of trust in institutions (as well as declining levels of inter-personal trust)
should logically account for the levels of populist mobilisation.
Two questions however, immediately arise. First, why has there been such a preponderance
of mobilisation of the far right or robust right rather than on the opposite side of the
spectrum? The discrediting of the Marxist left after the collapse of communism may provide
one possible answer (although one that suggests far right supporters have very short or very
selective memories, given the resounding discrediting of the far right after the Second World
War). A more convincing explanation may be that supporters of far-left parties still display
higher levels of trust (both generalised and interpersonal). To be sure, these levels of trust are
slightly lower than for mainstream voters, but higher nevertheless than far right supporters.
But, the more compelling question and the one that this paper seeks to address is how, given
the assertion that levels of trust do affect the nature of participation, can we explain the
emergence of different types of populism with the single dichotomous variable of
trust/mistrust? The argument we seek to develop here is that political cynicism gives rise to a
particular type of hybrid (democratic-cynical) trust. As we shall see, in the context of a lack
of trust in particular institutions, and the broader context of trust in democracy as the best
possible system, the media play a particular role in creating the necessary illusion that the
populist entrepreneur is both untrustworthy and yet well known enough to be trusted precisely
insofar as he known to be untrustworthy.
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
3. Corruption, mistrust and cynicism: the political instrumentalisation of scandal
‘…[M[edia interviews where the interviewer sets out to entrap and draw
blood do nothing to enlarge public understanding – but that is because the
listener and viewer collude in seeing the Minister, MP or official in the
same way as the media. That is, not as legitimate representatives of a
public realm that can only be sustained in the last resort if we respect it;
rather, as somebody we want to see discomfited or commit a gaffe. Public
life has become a kind of soap opera in which issues are less important
than the private foibles, wobbles and passions of the actors in the drama.’
It is both natural and logical to assume that scandals related to political corruption in
particular will have a damaging impact on the perceived credibility and trustworthiness of
politicians. In fact, corruption is potentially more damaging to democratic legitimacy than
other perceived shortcomings, such as policy failure or poor management of the economy: it
can undermine the very roots of the system. Democracies set themselves apart from non-
democracies on the basis of their claim to exercise power in a disinterested manner: citizens
are entitled to expect the political class and its administrative support structure will operate in
a transparent and accountable manner. In regard to interactions with civil servants or other
public sector officials (tax officials, local government offices, national health systems, and so
forth), citizens are entitled to expect parity of treatment, regardless of their status or income.
It is this predictability and lack of arbitrariness in terms of process which underpins the
differentiation of democracies from non-democracies. Democratic states are Rechtsstaats,
which operate according to the ‘rule of law’, ensuring that outcomes are seen as legitimate on
the basis of the nature of decision-making, rather than the decisions themselves (which may
indeed favour particularistic interests). Thus, activities by public officials – most especially
politicians and bureaucrats – which are seen to be corrupt can hit at the heart of a democratic
system’s claim to legitimacy. The likely consequences for trust are easy to deduce.
However, as is the case with the relationship between social capital and trust or between trust
and institutions, the nature of the impact of corruption scandals on perceptions of the political
class is in practice complex and multi-faceted. It is helpful to draw a distinction between, on
the one hand, what may be termed the political instrumentalisation of corruption scandals
and, on the other, the impact of such scandals (and their interpretation) on the voting public.
Although the two are in practice linked, there is an important conceptual distinction to be
drawn in terms of the central question of perception: the objective circumstances of corruption
in a given state may not be accurately reflected in its representation in the public domain. The
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
challenge, therefore, is to understand how and why incidents of corruption lead to scandals in
the first place, before turning to assess the way such scandals influence trust and voting
A string of significant scandals in west European democracies since the early 1990s,
involving both the financial and especially the political worlds, has resulted in close attention
being paid to how we explain and combat what to some looks like an inexorable rise in
corruption. Indeed, the much acclaimed triumph of capitalism over communism following
the collapse of the Soviet bloc regimes at the end of the 1980s was tainted in much of Western
Europe by the subsequent revelation of corruption scandals involving leading political figures.
The most dramatic of these occurred in Italy, following the so-called ‘Mani Pulite
investigations into bribery in Milan, which in turn exposed a major network of corruption
involving politicians at the highest level.
Further scandals were revealed in France, notably
the so-called Elf Aquitaine affair which led to the imprisonment of a former government
in Germany, where a linked investigation revealed that long-term Chancellor,
Helmut Kohl, had set up a secret political slush fund to channel funds to the ruling CDU;
Belgium, where the Augusta-Dassault defence contract scandal led to the conviction of former
deputy premier and NATO secretary-general, Willy Claes; in Spain, where a series of high-
profile scandals resulted in several ministerial resignations and the discrediting of the
Socialist government of Felipe González.
Even in the United Kingdom, long seen as free of
high-level political corruption, accusations of sleaze in government led to the creation of a
Committee on Standards in Public Life.
But have these countries really seen a dramatic increase in instances of corruption since the
early 1990s, or is it rather that there has been a growth in the reporting of ‘scandals’ (not
necessarily the same thing)? Pujas and Rhodes
have argued that one explanation for the
wave of scandals which seemed to sweep quite suddenly through southern Europe in the
1990s was the changing relationship between political parties on the one hand, and between
political and other social actors on the other. The critical point in this argument is that the
traditional arrangements which have characterised the organisation of political space in the
post-war era began to break down. One way in which corruption has become politicised, or
instrumentalised, is that parties which previously competed for votes on the basis of ideology,
yet colluded in corrupt activities, have altered their tactics. The policy platforms which used
to characterise and distinguish left and right have increasingly converged, whilst the pressure
to demonstrate governmental effectiveness in an increasingly interdependent policy
environment has led to an emphasis on technocratic, rather than ideological, solutions.
grounds of political competition have therefore moved, and in place of increasingly otiose
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
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Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
ideological disputes, parties have resorted to throwing corruption-related accusations at each
other. Indeed, as ‘clean government’ has increasingly been presented as a positive good, so
parties have sought to occupy the moral high ground and thereby attract the support of the
ever greater number of floating and ideologically disoriented voters: it is striking how many
election campaigns in western Europe (and the USA) over the last decade have featured
candidates’ trustworthiness as a key theme.
If clean government is presented as a positive good, then mainstream parties engulfed by
accusations and scandals represent a very real opportunity for non-mainstream parties to pose
as the ‘clean’ alternative. As mainstream politicians on the left and right appear to be equally
corrupt, parts of the far right can present themselves as credible alternatives untouched by
scandal - if not in practice untouched by corruption. The name of the game becomes either to
appear ‘clean’, or, in the case of a Berlusconi, to appear to know how to skirt scandal, play the
system and remain afloat.
The US presidential election campaign of 2000 arguably went even further: George W Bush
made much play of how, in contrast to his opponent, he trusted ‘the people’ rather than ‘the
government’. The logic of the argument, as Mark Warren points out, is that individuals and
organisations should keep control over their own resources rather than delegate them to
government, thereby obviating the need to engage in the risky business of trusting in
government to use them appropriately. However, as Warren goes on to outline, the argument
has a sub-text that government cannot be trusted because the institutions and agencies that
comprise it are not to be trusted: even though their rhetoric is one of disinterested public
service, the people who work in government, politicians and other public officials may
covertly be serving their own interests. Thus, ‘Bush’s rhetoric shades into the charge that
“government” is not to be trusted because it is corrupt’.
In turn, this reflects a shift away
from an emphasis on the democratic choice between party political platforms over competing
visions towards an anti-democratic form of populism. In line with the wider trend discussed
above, Bush’s appeal to voters was to trust in him personally, rather than the institutions of
democracy. This ‘politics of personal trust’, as Warren terms it, has become a feature of
many democratic elections in recent times. It is all the more effective, as well as all the more
easy to use as a resource, in the case of populist parties that have been too marginalised to be
seriously tainted by scandal and that make a fetish of strong, personal leadership.
Party activities and competition, though, also have to be seen within a wider context. It should
be noted that the dramatic wave of scandals which came to light in southern Europe during the
1990s was usually instigated by headline-grabbing investigating magistrates.
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
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Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
these ‘crusading’ magistrates often worked in close collaboration with the mass
communications media, especially the press, which had started to intervene more actively and
directly in politics and was less trammelled than in the past by the demands of political parties
or proprietors or by the constraints of a more ‘corporatist’ post-authoritarian era. In a much
more fluid political space, which is no longer the effective monopoly of the political class, the
media and other interests have increasingly started to compete with politicians to influence
public opinion. The boundaries between the political, commercial, judicial and reporting
world have in turn become more porous, with increasing numbers of high profile figures
moving between several of these spheres. For instance, as major media proprietors have
become increasingly influential political figures, so politicians have developed closer links
with business, giving rise to the emergence of what Della Porta and Pizzorno
have termed
‘business politicians’, closely linked to the growing professionalisation of political parties.
Meanwhile, leading magistrates such as Baltasar Garzón in Spain and Antonio di Pietro in
Italy have also moved between the judiciary and high elected office.
Even if we accept this analysis, it only answers a part of the puzzle since not all polities in
which major corruption scandals occurred have thrown up populist parties of the right, and
not all populist parties of the right are alike. And whilst scandals have been prominent in
polities where populist parties emerge, corruption and scandals seem to shape voter attitudes
differently to the extent that in some cases voters seem to lack trust while in others they
simply seem to have become cynical. Pujas and Rhodes
describe the generation of scandal
as a process of ‘competitive elite mobilisation’, which evolves over a number of phases: first,
the revelation of typically small-scale corruption by a relatively minor actor; second, the
denunciation and ‘criminalisation’ of that and other associated activity by judges; finally, the
escalation of public outrage via a press campaign fed less by investigative journalism than by
strategic leaks from the legal investigation. Once public opinion has been ‘scandalised’, the
media is able to mobilise a public sense of indignation against the political class, whilst
encouraging magistrates to continue exposing and indicting corrupt activity. In essence, this is
how the tangentopoli scandals emerged in Italy during the 1990s. What is being described,
then, is effectively a ‘cycle of contestation’ in which, as elites rotate in power, public attention
is drawn to (and then often tires of) media exposure of their shortcomings. However, one key
part of this cycle may be the ‘demobilisation’ of public and political concern over the issue of
corruption: as reports into scandals peter out (as they must), the public loses interest, the
media moves onto other issues, and judges tire in their pursuit of prosecutions: scandals have
diminishing returns.
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
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Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
In the case of Italy, for example, the protest and media attention which reverberated around
the world in the early 1990s has been replaced a decade later by acquiescence or even apathy
over the issue of political corruption. Indeed, the election to the premiership in 2001 of Silvio
Berlusconi – who had denounced the ‘hero judges’ of the anti-corruption crusades as
politically motivated ‘reds’ – might suggest that the political catharsis created by the 1990s
scandals has largely exhausted the appetite of the public (and politicians) for further
upheavals. The ‘cycle of contestation’ offers a potentially revealing insight into how
corruption scandals are instrumentalised. However, the precise manner in which such a cycle
emerges and is played out will depend to a crucial extent on how much ‘blurring’ of
traditional lines of demarcation between the political and other spheres actually takes place. It
is our argument that the greater the extent of such blurring, the more likely that ‘new’ actors
will be able to enter the electoral arena: these are the ‘entrepreneurial populists’ who are able
to play on the sense of cynicism that corruption scandals induce amongst significant elements
of the electorate. If the system is rotten, so the argument goes, electors may as well support
someone who has demonstrated their ability to ‘play’ the system and prosper within it. This is
a variation on Mark Warren’s argument about the ‘personalisation of trust’, which gives rise
to a new form of clientelism and deflects attention away from institutional reform:
When people seek out personal trust relations with politicians, they are, in
effect, seeking protection against a corrupt system while hoping for
influence that circumvents public institutions. The new clientelism appeals
to cynics: ‘government’ is beyond rehabilitation.
On the other hand, where the cycle of contestation has not managed to break down the
traditional lines of demarcation, the response amongst the electorate may simply be a growing
sense of disillusionment and alienation: the system is rotten and will remain so whilst the
current structures remain in place. In these cases, the terrain is likely to be more fertile for a
more traditional form of populist ‘anti-politics’, alongside growing levels of abstention.
Our argument is that such a broad process can be identified in most European democracies –
although, clearly, the extent to which the a ‘cycle of contestation’ follows the particular
pattern indicated above in any given country will be crucially influenced by such factors as
the nature of media ownership, the structure of the judiciary, the professionalisation of the
political class and the inter-penetration between business and political interests. Moreover,
whilst the ‘cycle of contestation’ may provide an aggregate level indication as to how and
why scandals emerge and are politicised, the argument we wish to investigate here is that the
impact of scandals varies according to different groups of voters. It would of course be
impossible to outline the whole range of potential responses to corruption-related scandals by
the voting public. Instead, what we seek to do here is to highlight the kinds of response which
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may contribute to the rise in support for entrepreneurial populism on the one hand, and more
traditional populism on the other.
The media clearly plays a pivotal role in the political instrumentalisation of corruption. In the
literature on scandal and its consequences for the political process, a number of theories can
be identified.
For our purposes, the most interesting are the so-called ‘trivialisation’ and the
‘subversion’ theories respectively. According to the ‘trivialisation theory’, the media has
undermined the political class through its obsession with scandal and with pricking the bubble
of authority: reporting of news has declined in comparison to the reporting of scandal, and
news has become dominated by ‘soft journalism’ and ‘infotainment’. The media increasingly
specialise in the sensational and the emotive, placing ever more emphasis on discourse which
is primarily visually determined and turning the routine reporting of politics into soap opera:
research by Thomas Patterson
found that between the early 1980s and 2000, soft news has
increased dramatically. In that period, news stories with no public policy content rose from
35 per cent to 50 per cent of all reporting; stories with some degree of sensationalism from 25
per cent to 40 per cent; and human interest-focused news reporting jumped from 11 per cent
to more than 26 per cent. The so-called ‘tabloidisation’ of the media (including television)
goes alongside a ‘privatisation’ of the public sphere, as public figures lose any sense of
mystery or aura: the most intimate personal details of politicians are revealed and debate tends
to become focused on the trivial (do politicians get their hair dyed, what are their sexual
propensities, drinking habits, why do they sweat in public, and so forth). Voters are able to
entertain the notion that they ‘know’ their representatives, based on how they appear in
countless televised performances and photo-opportunities. But this, of course, is a two-way
street: the media’s shift to a more personalised content is reflected in politicians themselves
seeking to use the media to bypass more conventional party-based channels of communication
with the electorate.
Political broadcasts have increasingly become focused on the
‘character’ of leaders, rather than the public policies they would seek to promote.
The danger of this form of ‘trivialisation’, following Warren’s argument, is that it
depoliticises political judgement: ‘when the trustworthiness of the candidate overrides
agreement on the issues, the vote does not reflect a judgement about public affairs, but is
something more like a defensive reaction against a system that has, for all practical purposes,
been written off as captured by other interests’.
Warren refers to this development as a form
of ‘new clientelism’, which ‘expresses a cynicism about the domain of collective action.’
What we end up with is a situation in which the appeal to personalised trust claimed by
politicians – grounded on character-based rather than skills-based attributes – actually
reinforces a disengagement from the more conventional democratic political process, in which
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debate is driven by arguments over the most appropriate distribution of resources. As we
argue in more detail below, responses to what might be termed the focus on froth rather than
substance will lead some voters to become wholly disillusioned with the conventional
democratic options on offer and look for anti-system alternatives, whilst others will favour
supporting the ‘political entrepreneurs’ who can ‘play the system’ effectively.
According to ‘subversion theory’, there is a divide between ‘popular news’ (the tabloids) and
‘official news’ (the broadsheets or serious press): the claimed authority and objectivity of the
official news – that which political class would like to see reported – is subverted by
challenges of the popular news, which in turn cultivates scepticism and disbelief. Popular
news invites readers and viewers to laugh at the pompous claims of political class, whose
power depends on being taken seriously. But in reality, according to the popular news, the
political class is characterised by incompetents who are unable even to do what they set out to
do – that is, manage the economy and enact policy effectively. The fact that the policy milieu
has become increasingly complex in an ever more inter-connected global environment cuts
little ice: politicians are constrained to make promises about what they will achieve, even
though there is little chance of their being able realise those promises. Therefore, one
seemingly logical response is for voters to become increasingly cynical about the political
class and to look instead to those with proven track record of achievement in the kind of dirty
world that should fit them well for doing what politicians have proved themselves incapable
of – that is, in particular, being successful in their own (non-politics) sphere, whether that is in
the corporate or even the entertainment world.
4. Two types of populism
In line with the most widely accepted definitions of populism,
we can argue that all the
movements we examine present the following traits attributable to populist parties or
movements: they claim to represent the ‘common man’, the average voter whose voice has
long been lost; they claim to be able to return to a golden, more innocent age of politics
during which politics and political decisions rested in the hands of those who contribute most
significantly to the everyday life of the nation by their labour; they claim to have identified a
gap between the leader and the led and that political power has been usurped by an
undeserving, spoilt and corrupt elite whose aim is to govern for its own benefit while reaping
and withholding the political, social and economic rewards which rightly belong to the
people; above all, they abhor what they regard as the gratuitous professionalisation and
intellectualisation of the political realm which has led to its corruption and the subsequent
exclusion from it of those it claims to represent.
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It is noteworthy that all types of populism are not only dependent on a democratic framework,
but in fact very supportive of a type of democracy. As Canovan
has argued, therefore,
populism can actually be understood to be a ‘pathology of democracy’ (what she refers to as
‘a shadow cast by democracy’) – hence the support for democracy and a democratic system
which we find in all countries where populism is successful. However, as we have argued
above, there will emerge two very different types of populism depending on whether we are
dealing predominantly with alienation or cynicism. The former generates a traditional, right-
wing anti-system type of populism; the latter, a form of ‘entrepreneurial populism’. We
discuss these two types of populism in more detail below.
4.1. Traditional, right-wing populism
Leaders such as Jean-Marie Le Pen or Jorg Haider draw their support from their relentless
refusal to endorse the system in which they operate—yet all the while trying to infiltrate it in
rather conventional ways. They thrive on the notion that, against all odds and despite the
abdication of incompetent professional politicians, they alone will maintain a commitment to
genuine democratic ideals and principles. The appeal is to voters whose profile is mixed, but
generally encompasses two broad types.
Both the FN and the FPÖ initially drew their
(timid) support from the traditional right; their supporters were mostly male (this has
remained a constant), in late-middle age or nearing retirement, often drawn from the small
bourgeoisie (local doctors, successful small businessmen and entrepreneurs). Further, they
were drawn from specific regions: in France, the South and the East (mainly Alsace); in
Austria, Carinthia and Styria.
This support remains significant, but electoral success for both parties has coincided with the
rise in a different type of support, that of younger, more disaffected voters (the FPÖ has
become the strongest party by far among the members of younger generations of voters with
a share of 35 percent), of lower socio-economic status (only 35 percent of the blue-collar
voters opted for the Social Democratic Party, while 60 percent voted for centre-right parties,
of which the FPÖ managed to attract 47 percent) and with lower levels of education. Thus to
their initial regional strongholds in the comfortably off provinces, the parties shave added the
more modest suburbs of large capitals and the industrially decimated zones of France and
Austria. This vote is no longer strictly the domain of the provinces.
The electoral data show
that this new form of support is characterized either by first-time
voters with little or no previous political experience, or by voters who, given their socio-
economic backgrounds might have been expected to support a left-wing party. This is
noteworthy because it demonstrates the somewhat non-partisan nature of the choice for what
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is a significant proportion of the parties’ voters. While these parties are clearly right-wing, it
makes more sense in light of these results to assume that while some of their supporters
endorse their robust partisanship, their recent electoral support comes from voters who are
less swayed by the left/right dimension and more so by their message of reform of a political
process from which they feel utterly disconnected.
What is of importance for the argument we develop here is the power exerted not by a
left/right policy driven discourse, but rather by reform driven rhetoric. This takes us to the
heart of the politics of populism, where the operative distinctions in analytical terms are not
so much left/right but status quo versus opposition or infiltration. The operative question for
the our argument, therefore, is how that reform is conceived, either through an anti-system
attitude or through a cynical attitude.
4.2 Entrepreneurial populism
The entrepreneurial populism to which we refer is that of politicians who have made a mark
through their success in spheres outside mainstream politics. A representative example is
Silvio Berlusconi in Italy (others might include Christoph Blocher, Ross Perot, or Arnold
Schwarzenegger). Berlusconi has all the hallmarks of the populist leader, but can nevertheless
not be classified alongside Jean Marie Le Pen or Jorg Haider. Nor can he appear alongside
Jacques Chirac or Tony Blair. While the latter have adopted a populist style in some
instances, theirs’ is precisely that: a populist style, rather than populist politics.
Figures such as Berlusconi on the other hand present a very particular type of profile. While
striving to be perceived as a non-professional politician (something common to all populist
leaders), Berlusconi’s credentials as a successful businessman who is seen to have ‘done well
by the system’ and ready to apply his brand of motivation, work and analysis to what is
perceived as an inefficient and corrupt political system are key to his success. The reasoning
behind a vote for the entrepreneurial populist might work as follows: although the system
may be corrupt, the appropriate response is to vote for someone who can play this system to
the mutual advantage of voter and candidate. In populist terms, the person for whom the vote
is cast needs to present a certain set of characteristic that are in line with populist traits. The
person needs to be seen as successful in the ‘real world’. In other words, they must appear to
be in politics as an outsider and a non-professional who has proven his worth in another
‘more real’ sphere of life. Here people like Berlusconi or Blocher in Switzerland fit the type
as successful businessmen. The argument is consistent with Thompson’s emphasis in his
‘social theory of scandal’ in which scandals are seen as struggles over symbolic power in
which reputation and trust are at stake.
(Thompson, 2000: 245). As Thompson argues,
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reputation can be character-based (as in the appeal increasingly being made by mainstream
politicians) or skills-based (as in the appeal made by entrepreneurial populists). The growing
emphasis on personal trustworthiness that we have seen in democratic elections over recent
years relies on leaders both distancing themselves from allegedly scandal-prone opponents
and presenting themselves as honest and morally upright citizens of good character. But the
reputation claim of entrepreneurial populists follows an entirely different logic: their appeal is
on the basis of what they have achieved, not their personal integrity, and their take on
scandals is that they represent the endemic corruption of all mainstream politicians.
The paradox in this sort of support for entrepreneurial populism is that the person does not
necessarily have to be seen as trustworthy or moral. In fact, in most cases, their moral
credentials are somewhat weak. But this is taken to mean that they can beat politicians at
their own game: professional politicians are no less corrupt, but the fact that they are less
successful or effective gives the populist entrepreneur the upper hand. They have what the
Italians call ‘furbizzia’ (street-smarts). The reasoning here is that if politicians are going to
behave as badly, or as inefficiently, as they do, it makes more sense to elect someone about
whom you have no illusions in terms of morality or trustworthiness, but whose street smarts
can be relied upon. Where the populist calculation comes in, however, is that while the
person may not be trustworthy, there is sufficient trust in both their being one of us (hence the
importance of the person being perceived as the local lad who’s done well) and the enduring
faith in democratic institutions which will allow for a trickle down effect to the ordinary
The trust here represents a set of constructed paradoxes:
a. the entrepreneurial populist is trusted because they do not claim to be trustworthy and
nor are they perceived as being so;
b. the system is seen as generally corrupt enough that it deserves to be ‘played’ rather
than respected;
c. but, simultaneously, the democratic system is still trusted enough to deliver some of
the benefits down to ordinary people despite the populist leader’s aim to play the
system for himself.
We thus find ourselves faced with a new type of trust, a trust placed in an untrustworthy
individual in order to play a system whose institutions one does not trust but whose ideals and
intentions are still trusted.
In the context of the debate on the possibility of generalized versus interpersonal trust this is
striking. Neither Hardin’s account whereby trust in institutions is impossible (what we want
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is someone in our corner), nor Rothstein’s model of generalized trust (the democratic system
acts in a disinterested manner), captures this voter choice. The trust in the politician can be
interpreted as a perverted type of interpersonal trust (I trust him [to get the job done] because
I know he is not really trustworthy). The trust in the system as a whole – democracy – is a
version of generalized trust (the system will deliver some of the goods), but there is no
intermediary trust in existing democratic institutions, and these can therefore be bypassed in
favour of a populist leader. Hence the two types of populism we have identified – traditional
and entrepreneurial – respond to very different logics in terms of the appeal they make and
the kind of support they are able to mobilise.
5. Evidence from the European and World Values Surveys
Is there any evidence to support the argument we have developed here? In order to answer
this question, we have looked at data from the third wave European Values Survey
(1999/2000) and the first two waves of the World Values Survey. Of course, the questions in
these surveys are not tailored precisely to the variables we are seeking to investigate, and
therefore the findings we are able to present are necessarily preliminary rather than definitive
– but we believe they offer some support for our hypothesis about the relationship between
the blurring of institutional lines, levels of trust, and the emergence of distinct forms of
populism in Europe.
We anticipated that where there is a blurring of the lines of demarcation regarding the role of
institutions, this should make the democratic system more open to entrepreneurial populists,
and participation is therefore likely to be higher than in polities where the lines are not so
blurred. This assumption seems borne out by recent figures that clearly show a higher rate of
abstention in France (a polity susceptible to traditional alienated populism), the UK and
Germany (where we find neither type of populism) compared to Italy (where we find the
clearest case of entrepreneurial populism).
We also sought to identify trends reflecting the impact of cynicism versus lack of trust on
party political outcomes. In the first instance we contrasted those polities exhibiting a form of
populism (either traditional or entrepreneurial) with those polities in which populist parties of
any sort are absent. We anticipated that where populist parties do well there should be
stronger evidence of a generalised lack of trust or cynicism than where populist parties are
unsuccessful or absent. Given our understanding of populism, we would expect those
inclined to support a populist party to:
a. experience lower levels of confidence in political institutions;
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b. feel a commitment to democracy coupled with a heightened sense of betrayal;
c. believe more strongly in the importance of strong leadership;
d. display lower levels of political involvement/interest.
Thus, in places where a populist electorate does exist, we would expect to find lower levels of
confidence in political institutions, a high commitment to democracy coupled with a sense of
democracy’s failure ‘to deliver’, a greater support for strong leadership, and lower levels of
political involvement.
Finally, given that our argument is based on the notion that there is a
difference between lack of trust and cynicism, and that entrepreneurial populism is based on a
cynical view of politics combined with an instrumental view of democracy and institutions,
we anticipated that those who vote for entrepreneurial populists should exhibit higher levels
of inter-personal trust than generalised trust, coupled with a belief in the soundness of the
democratic system.
To conclude, we are able to outline the following preliminary findings about trust, cynicism
and populist anti-politics:
A. Levels of confidence in political institutions
The highest levels of trust in the press are to be found in Spain and Germany (no
significant populism), whereas figures for France, Italy and Austria confirm that where
there is any form of populism, confidence in the press is strikingly lower. It should be
noted, however, that the UK (also a non-populist case) is an outlier and displays the
lowest levels of trust in the press: 37.3% claim they have ‘no trust at all’ in the press and
only 1.2% claim to have ‘a great deal of trust’ in the press.
Italy displays the lowest levels of confidence in parliament (with 66% of respondents
claiming that have either no trust or not very much trust in parliament), but contrary to
expectations, the two second highest measures for lack of trust in parliament are to be
found in Britain and Germany, where we might have expected to find higher levels of
trust in political institutions. France, predictably, has the lowest numbers of respondents
who claim to have ‘a great deal of trust in parliament’ and offers an interesting profile of
an otherwise almost equal distribution between the three other options. Paradoxically,
France and Spain have the highest numbers of respondents who claim to have ‘quite a lot
of trust in parliament’. On this variable, therefore, the results are more mixed than on the
press and no discernible profile emerges.
In regard to levels of generalized trust, again the results are mixed: we expected to find a
clear distinction between polities in which populist parties had been successful and those
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where they had not, but the results are not so clear cut. While Italy, France and Austria
display very low levels of generalized trust, more so than Spain and Germany, once
again, the UK is an outlier since it displays the second lowest levels of generalized trust.
B. Commitment to democracy and sense of betrayal
We looked at levels of commitment to democracy and respondents’ answers to whether
democracy is the best political system. Here, as predicted, in countries with populist
parties the proportion that ‘agree strongly’ that democracy is the best political system are
higher than where populist parties are absent. However, on the workings of democracy,
the picture is more nuanced. Here, as we expected, most respondents found democracy to
be somewhat indecisive. The highest level of dissatisfaction on this score is to be found
in France where 26.2% and 47.3% respectively of respondents agreed strongly or agreed
with the idea that democracy was indecisive. Italy, as predicted, came (a distant) second
with 8.6% agreeing strongly and 43.9% agreeing with the statement and Austria, again as
predicted, came third (4.8% and 36.5%). Spain and Germany exhibited the highest
percentages of disagreement with the statement. These findings were in line with our
expectations. But, once again, the UK’s profile was unexpected, since it had the second
highest agree strongly score (10.6%) but overall came third to Italy when ‘agree’ and
‘agree strongly’ figures were combined. The UK and Germany, however, did exhibit the
highest levels of respondents who strongly disagreed with the statement that democracy
was indecisive.
On the general question as to whether they were ‘satisfied with democracy’, respondents
in both Italy and France have the broadly expected profiles and exhibit the lowest levels
of satisfaction with democracy. Austria here is an outlier, as the level of satisfaction with
democracy is higher than expected – although it is possible the perceived threat to the
workings of democracy (in the form of Haider’s election) might have heightened the
positive evaluation of the system at the time as a form of response.
C. Belief in strong leadership
This is a complex variable because political histories (in the case of Austria, Italy,
Germany and Spain) are likely to have a significant impact on what respondents feel able
to endorse. However, we are able to distinguish clear support for a strong political leader
in France and Italy: not only was positive endorsement of strong leaders highest in these
countries, there was also least support for the view that it was a ‘very bad idea’.
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Having looked at the general results for the electorate at large, we then focused more
specifically on supporters of populist parties. We tested the same set of attitudes (attitudes
toward generalise and inter-personal trust, strong leadership, democracy, and so forth), but
also looked at the correlation between these variables and those voters who might vote for
populist parties. We thus ran basic cross-tabulations between the variables listed above and
party support/choice. We looked at voting intentions (‘who would you vote for in the next
election?’) as well as the appeal of each political party (‘which political party most appeals to
The results were striking: in the first instance, it is quite clear that supporters of traditional
right-wing populist parties are the least trusting group of voters: 91.2% of potential Le Pen
supporters said that most people could not be trusted. This is 20% less than the next least
trusting cohort of voters. In Austria, the same sort of picture emerges: individuals declaring
themselves as potential voters for the FPO are also the least trusting of cohorts--although the
discrepancy between right wing populist supporters and the others is less striking (and there is
only a 10% gap to the next group). Significantly, and as predicted, supporters of Berlusconi
score highly on levels of interpersonal trust (38% of them - well above avearage - declare that
most people can be trusted). On the whole, what we note is that a vote for populist parties
correlates with low levels of trust in institutions, regardless of the type of populism
supported,. But, whereas supporters of traditional populism also score poorly on
interpersonal trust, this is not the case for those voters who support entrepreneurial populists.
With respect to attitides toward democracy, whilst all supporters of populist parties tend to
display high levels of allegiance to democracy as a political system, those who vote for
traditional populist parties are more dissatisfied with democracy than those who support
entrepreneurial populists (for example le Pen and Haider supporters had the lowest rate of
satisfaction with democracy - around 36% not at all satisfied and 33% not very satisfied with
democracy in each case). These voters’ willingness to follow politics in the media was
average, while both lots of traditional populist voters simultaneously felt that politics was not
at all important in their lives but were, on average, far more likely to join or belong to a
political party or group. The portrait that emerges thus broadly fits with our expected results:
the traditional populist supporters feel committed to democracy, betrayed by its workings and
institutions, but mobilised none the less (insofar as they vote and may join a political party or
movement). They are relatively interested in politics, but also feel disconnected from it
insofar as they are able to say that politics is not very important in their lives. The
combination of mistrust in institutions and mistrust in other individuals thus completes a
portrait of a voter who is not so much apathetic as alienated from the mainstream and whose
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sense of betrayal leads him or her to turn to traditional populist options. Voters who support
Berlusconi’s Forza Italia on the other hand, whilst displaying relatively high levels of
mistrust in institutions, are far more trusting of other individuals and yet possibly more
instrumental in their view of politics: they are not joiners and seem to present only an average
profile in terms of support for political movements or parties.
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J. B Thompson, Political Scandal. Power and Visibility in the Media Age (Cambridge:
Polity, 2000), pp. 258-9
C. Hay, ‘‘Punctuated Evolution’ and the Uneven Temporality of Institutional Change: The
‘Crisis’ of Keynesianism and the Rise of Neo-Liberalism in Britain,’ Paper presented to the
Eleventh Conference of Europeanists, (Baltimore, 26-28 February, 1998); see also C. Hay and
D. Wincott, ‘Structure, Agency and Historical Institutionalism,’ Political Studies, 46, 5, (Dec.
1998), pp. 951-957.
M. E. Warren, ‘Trust in Democratic Institutions’, paper prepared for the EURESCO
conference, ‘Social Capital: Interdisciplinary Perspectives’ (University of Exeter, 15-20
September 2001); L. Zucker, ‘Production of trust: Institutional sources of economic
structures, 1840-1920’, Research in Organizational Behaviour, 8, (1986), pp. 53-111; M.
E. Warren, ‘Democratic Theory and Trust’ in M.E. Warren (Ed.), Democracy and Trust
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999) pp. 310-45 and pp. 346-60; C. Offe, ‘How
can we trust our fellow citizens?’ in M.E. Warren (Ed.), Democracy and Trust (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1999) pp. 42-87; N. Luhmann, ‘Familiarity, Confidence, Trust.
Problems and Alternatives’ in D. Gambetta (Ed.), Trust. Making and Breaking Cooperative
Relations (Oxford: Blackwell, 1988); N. Luhmann, ‘Trust: A mechanism for the reduction of
social complexity’ in Trust and Power: Two Works by Nikeas Luhmann (Chichester: John
Wiley and Sons, 1979); F. Fukuyama, Trust. The Social Virtues and the Creation of
Prosperity (New York: Free Press, 1995); R. Hardin, ‘Trusting persons, trusting institutions’
in R. J. Zeckhauser (Ed.), Strategy and Choice (Cambridge: MIT Press. 1991); R. Hardin,
‘Trustworthiness’ Ethics, 107, (1996), pp. 26-42.
Hans-Georg Betz, Radical Right-Wing Populism in Western Europe (London: Macmillan,
1994); Hans-Georg Betz, ‘Introduction.’ In Hans-Georg Betz and Stefan Immerfall, (eds.),
The New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Parties and Movements in Established
Democracies (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1998).
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Giovanni Sartori, Parties and Party Systems (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
Sartori, ibid, p. 132.
Sartori, ibid, pp. 132-33.
Explanations of the rise of right-wing populism as part of diaffection Betz etc., Mayer,
This is illustrated by the three surveys we have looked at and will be discussed further in the
R. Putnam, Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1993); R. Putnam, Bowling Alone: the collapse and revival of
American community (New York, London: Simon and Schuster, 2000).
Hardin, op. cit., Ref. 3.
Bo Rothstein, ‘Social capital and institutional Legitimacy’, paper prepared for delivery at
the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, (Washington DC.: August
31- September 3 2000).
Will Hutton, The Observer (28 March 2004).
Donatella Della Porta, and Alberto Vannucci, Corrupt Exchanges (Haythorne, NY: Aldine
de Gruyter 1999).
Paul Heywood Véronique Pujas and Martin Rhodes, ‘Political Corruption, Democracy and
Governance in Western Europe’, in Paul Heywood, Erik Jones and Martin Rhodes (Eds.),
Developments in West European Politics 2 (Basingstoke: Palgrave 2002)
Ulrich Von Alemann, ‘Party Finance, Party Donations and Corruption. The German Case’,
in D. Della Porta and S. Rose-Ackerman (Eds.), Corrupt Exchanges: Empirical Themes in the
Politics and Political Economy of Corruption (Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft
Paul Heywood, ‘Analysing Political Corruption in Western Europe. Spain and the UK in
Comparative Perspective’ in D. Della Porta and S. Rose-Ackerman (Eds.), Corrupt
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
Exchanges: Empirical Themes in the Politics and Political Economy of Corruption (Baden-
Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft, 2002).
V. Pujas and M. Rhodes, ‘Party Finance and Political Scandal in Italy, Spain and France’
in West European Politics 22/3 (1999).
Paul Heywood, ‘Executive Capacity and Legislative Limits’ in Paul Heywood, Erik Jones
and Martin Rhodes (Eds.), Developments in West European Politics 2 (Basingstoke:
Palgrave, 2002).
Warren, 2001, op. cit., Ref. 3, p.1.
D. Della Porta, ‘A Judges’ Revolution? Political Corruption and the Judiciary in Italy’,
European Journal of Political Research 39 (2001).
D. Della Porta and A. Pizzorno, ‘The Business Politicians: Relfections from a Study of
Political Corruption’ in M. Levi and D. Nelken (Eds.), The Corruption of Politics and the
Politics of Corruption (Oxford: Blackwell 1996).
V. Pujas and M. Rhodes, op. cit., Ref. 18.
Warren, 2001, op. cit., Ref 20, p. 3.
Thompson, op. cit., Ref. 1.
T. Patterson, ‘Doing well and doing good: How soft news and critical journalism are
shrinking the news audience and weakening democracy -- And what news outlets can do
about it’ The Joan Shorenstein Center for Press, Politics, & Public Policy at Harvard
University (2001).
See Joseph N. Cappella and Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Spiral of Cynicism: The Press and the
Public Good (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997).
Warren, 2001, op. cit., Ref. 20, p.6.
M. Canovan, ‘Trust the People! Populism and the Two Faces of Democracy’, Political
Studies, 47, 1, (2000), pp. 2-16; A. Taguieff,. ‘Mobilisation national-populiste en France;
vote zénophobe et nouvel anti-sémitisme politique,’ Lignes, (March 1990), pp.91-136; P. A.
Taguieff, ‘La doctrine du national-populsime en France,’ Etudes, 364, 1, (1986), pp. 27-46;
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
C. Fieschi, Fascism, Populism and the French Fifth Republic: in the shadow of democracy
(Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2004); P. Taggart, The New Populism and the
New Politics, (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1996); P. A. Taguieff, L’Illusion Populiste, (Paris:
Berg, 2002).
Canovan, op.cit., Ref. 28.
N. Mayer, ‘Du vote lepéniste au vote frontiste,’ Revue française de science politique, 47, 3-
4, (1997), pp. 438-453; N. Mayer, Ces Français qui votent FN (Paris: Flammarion, 2003).
N. Mayer, ibid.; F. Plasser, et al., ‘Analyse der Nationalratswahl’, (Vienna: ZAP 1999),
Y. Mény and Y. Surel, Par le Peuple, Pour le Peuple, (Paris: Fayard, 2000); Y. Mény and
Y. Surel 'The Constitutive Ambiguity of Populism' in Mény, Yves and Yves Surel (eds.),
Democracies and the Populist Challenge, (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002); P. A. Taguieff,
L’Illusion Populiste, (Paris: Berg, 2002).
Thompson, Political Scandal, p.245.
To test this hypothesis, we focused on the following questions from the EVS:
¾ how much confidence do you have in:
the press V203
the police V205
parliament V206
the justice system V212
¾ are you satisfied with democracy? V213
¾ view government bad-very good V214
¾ democracy is best political system V220
¾ democracy is indecisive V222
¾ how often do you follow politics in the media? V263
¾ how interested are you in politics? O17
¾ how important is politics in your life? V5
¾ do you belong to political parties or groups? V16
¾ political system needs a strong leader? V216
¾ political system needs experts making decisions? V217
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
We used the following question to control for an attitude susceptible to yield the sort of
cynical trust alluded to above:
¾ people can be trusted vs. you can’t be too careful V66
Positive appraisal of this statement should be higher where entrepreneurial populism has
gained a foothold than in those polities where traditional populism holds more sway. We
would expect that levels of interpersonal trust would be higher in those polities too. Where a
traditional type of populism is present we should be able to identify a set of attitudes related
to lack of trust; where an entrepreneurial populism was present we should be able to identify a
set of attitudes related to cynicism.
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Paper originally prepared for Journal of Political Ideologies 9:3 (2004)
To be revised and updated
Corruption control in political life and the quality of democracy
Lisbon, 19-20 May 2005
... Empirically, however, findings are conflicting: while some research confirms a positive association between low trust in institutions and far right voting (Akkerman et al., 2017;Denemark & Bowler, 2002;Fieschi & Heywood, 2004;Hooghe et al., 2011;Lubbers et al., 2002), other scholars suggest that this relationship is not consistent across cases and across time (Norris, 2005;Rooduijn, 2018;Santana et al., 2020;van Hauwaert & van Kessel, 2018;Vrakopoulos, 2022). In sum, there is a debate in the literature about the extent to which negative evaluations of the democratic process help understand far right party support, especially within the context of some empirical findings that certain individuals who evaluate the democratic process positively, for example by reporting high levels government satisfaction (Norris, 2005), may also vote for the far right. ...
... The mechanism here is discontent, as the prime motive behind this vote is to express dissatisfaction with the democratic process (Betz, 1994;Van der Brug et al., 2000;Van der Brug & Fennema, 2007). Indeed, some studies have confirmed an empirical positive association between distrust and system dissatisfaction on the one hand, and far right voting on the other (Akkerman et al., 2017;Denemark & Bowler, 2002;Fieschi & Heywood, 2004;Hooghe et al., 2011;Lubbers et al., 2002). In line with this literature we hypothesise: Despite, however, the strong theoretical reasons to expect political distrust to be associated with far right party support, empirically, some research highlights the counter-intuitive finding that, under certain circumstances, citizens who positively evaluate the democratic process may vote for the far right (Norris, 2005;Santana et al., 2020). ...
... On the one hand, discontent voters who negatively evaluate the democratic process are more likely to be motivated by the desire to express their dissatisfaction and vote primarily against the system as opposed to in favour of the far right. This mechanism is in line with the empirical literature that finds a strong association between levels of distrust and far right voting (Akkerman et al., 2017;Denemark & Bowler, 2002;Fieschi & Heywood, 2004;Hooghe et al., 2011;Lubbers et al., 2002). On the other hand, voting for the far right is not exclusive to discontent voters (Norris, 2005;Rooduijn, 2018;van Hauwaert & van Kessel, 2018). ...
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This article contributes to the debate about democratic discontent and far right party support taking into account the heterogeneity of the far right voter pool. Distinguishing between peripheral far right voters driven by discontent, and core far right voters driven by nationalism, we argue that citizens' evaluations of the democratic process are associated with their electoral behaviour; but this relationship varies depending on their immigration attitudes. Using data from 9 waves of the European Social Survey (2002-2018), we confirm that whereas among the general population positive evaluations of the democratic process may serve as a deterrent for far right party support, the same assessments are unlikely to deter the far right's core ideological voters. In some circumstances, they might have a galvanising effect, prompting a backlash among some core voters. Our findings add nuance to voting behaviour theories, and illustrate why scholars should pay more attention to far right intra-partisan heterogeneity.
... 2 In France for instance, 40% of citizens declare that the trait they value most among elected officials is their honesty, almost double the percentage for competency or promise-keeping (Cevipof, 2020). Individual characteristics like integrity have also probably become prominent criteria among voters in reaction to both globalization (Hellwig and Samuels, 2007)-which has imposed new constraints on government policies and reduced accountability for economic outcomes-and ideological convergence among mainstream parties (Fieschi and Heywood, 2004). ...
... According to Mounk (2018), this process is fostered by rising inequalities, the end of the monopoly on information, and a diversification of the population. These changes are accompanied by rises in populism, political distrust, "tabloidization" of the media, and greater public sensitivity to political scandals (Fieschi and Heywood, 2004;Nieuwenburg, 2007). Many explanations for populism have been offered, from the role of economic disruptions following 21st century globalization and the Great Recession (Rodrik, 2018(Rodrik, , 2021Guriev and Papaioannou, 2022), to a cultural "counterrevolution" (Ignazi, 1992;Inglehart and Norris, 2016), and a crisis of trust at both the institutional (Algan et al., 2017) and interpersonal (Algan et al., 2019) levels. ...
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In Western democracies, recent decades have seen a transformation of the relationship between citizens and their representatives towards greater accountability, transparency, and anti-corruption efforts. However, such developments are sometimes suspected of paradoxically fueling populism and diminishing political trust. We investigate the extent to which a new public institution tasked with monitoring the integrity of elected officials is likely to attract popular support and restore citizens' trust in democracy. We focus on France and its main anti-corruption agency, the High Authority for the Transparency of Public Life (HATVP), set up in 2013. We run a survey among 3,000 representative citizens and 33 experts, and augment it with an experimental treatment where we randomly provide simple, concise information on the HATVP's activity and track record. Our results first show a large divergence between the opinions of the average citizen and the more optimistic views of experts about the state and dynamics of political integrity in France. Second, we find that citizens have heterogeneous beliefs and that those most distrustful of politicians are not only more likely to vote for populist candidates or abstain, but are also the least informed about the anti-corruption agency. Third, our information provision experiment has meaningful, positive impacts on citizens' perceptions of the HATVP, political transparency, and representative democracy. We show that some of the greatest impacts are found among initially distrustful and poorly informed citizens, underscoring the potential for communication and information to change the political perceptions and attitudes of disillusioned citizens.
... In the European context, citizens who trust their political elites (Webb, 2013) and are more satisfied with democracy have been found to have a higher propensity to vote in elections (Grönlund & Setälä, 2007;Hadjar & Beck, 2010). Similarly, dissatisfaction with politicians and the political system is associated with the electorate of populist parties, especially those of the radical right (Norris, 2005;Fieschi & Heywood, 2004;Ignazi, 2003;Lubbers, 2001;Betz, 1994). H3a. ...
Empirical works have clearly shown a growing success of populist parties in mobilizing voters across advanced democracies. On the other hand, there has been an increase in abstention in most European countries, especially related to 'temporary' abstentionists, that is, those who decide not to vote due to contingent reasons. Both phenomena are not only important for party system change, but also for the inequality of political representation. To what extent are these two distinct logics related? Can abstention and populist support be explained by the same determinants? This paper aims to examine whether populist support can be compared to abstention and to identify both the commonalities and differences between these phenomena. The study addresses this problem by using data from an original survey carried out to a representative sample of the Portuguese population in 2020. The main findings indicate that voting for populist radical right parties is associated to different factors when compared to abstention. While the latter is determined by socio-structural variables, populist support is mostly explained by political attitudes related to issue positions, making this phenomenon more contingent and more dependent on short-term factors.
... Trust-building strategies are a key concern for policy-makers (Morales 2017;OECD 2017a;Brezzi et al. 2021;Besley and Dray 2022;Eurofound 2022). Low and declining levels of political trust are seen as a breeding ground for populist parties (Fieschi and Heywood 2004;Doyle 2011;Rooduijn 2018;Jiang and Ma 2020;Mauk 2020; Angelucci and Vittori 2021; Bergbower and Allen 2021; Bélanger 2017) and for favouring preferences for authoritarian leadership (Mounk 2019). Moreover, political trust emerged as a pivotal factor for societies to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic in solidarity and joint effort (see for a meta-analysis). ...
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Political trust is routinely invoked by social scientists and pundits, usually in a crisis narrative that sees a danger to democracy in declining or low levels of political trust. However, the concept remains fuzzy and elusive. Although non-exhaustive, this review traces strands of consensus and disputes on the conceptualisations, determinants, and consequences of political trust. It highlights the recent (re-)discovery of a distinction between related yet distinct family members of political trust: sceptical mistrust and cynic distrust. The deeply rooted concern with political trust lies not in increasing political trust but in preventing healthy mistrust from turning into cynic distrust.
... This article is focused on the temporal change in attitudes towards the currently governing populist party, PiS. Previous relevant studies-on the characteristics of the populist voter (Akkerman et al. 2014), issues with the legitimacy of populist-run institutions (Doyle 2011) or how 'soap opera' populist politics are detrimental to political trust (Fieschi & Heywood 2004)were not specific to Poland, and this article fills a gap. ...
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The study explores attitudinal change in political trust, social trust and satisfaction with the Polish government over the years 2012–2016 using European Social Survey (ESS) data. To trace the attitudinal change, I used a probit model (contemporary measure) instrumenting political trust and satisfaction with governance as two endogenous regressors and created lags corresponding to years before and after the Law and Justice Party came to power. The key finding of the study is that voters dissatisfied with the government before the 2015 election campaign voted for the populist party, while the contemporary measure identified individuals with a higher degree of political trust and those sceptical towards their immediate social circle as supportive of the populist incumbent.
... Political science and communication scholars have identified the use of emotions as a key characteristic of populist communication (Canovan, 1999;Fieschi & Heywood, 2004). Populism is often associated with negative emotions such as fear, resentment, cultural anxiety and especially anger (Abadi et al., 2020;Demertzis, 2006;Rico et al., 2017). ...
Are personal stories more effective in shaping opinion than experts' endorsements? This study investigates the persuasiveness of personal stories and expert endorsements in shaping public opinion on education spending and pollution reduction policies. Using a survey experiment in Spain, we found that personal stories consistently increased support for both policies, with a particularly strong effect on citizens with populist attitudes or voters of populist parties. These findings contribute to a better understanding of the success of populist parties and the influence of personal stories on public opinion.
Populist mobilization may take different forms. It can be either revolutionary, through social movements, or electoral, through political parties, but is often a mixture of both under the leadership of a populist persona. The October Revolution in Kyrgyzstan provides an opportunity to look beyond classical cases of populist mobilization in Europe and the Americas to uncover key factors that cause existing populist attitudes to become activated and mobilized. Political science literature points to the root causes of populist uprisings as coming from either the supply-side perspective, meaning populist rhetoric and institutional conditions that induce the appearance of populist parties, or the demand-side perspective, meaning individual attitudes that predict support for populists. These theories of populism may do well at explaining American or European varieties of populist mobilization, but they fail to capture Kyrgyzstan’s experience. Thus, drawing on ideational theory that emphasizes the interplay between populist attitudes, elite rhetoric, and contextual factors, this study employs World Values Survey ( WVS ) data from 2003, 2011, and 2020—three pivotal pre-revolutionary or post-revolutionary periods. This allows for the investigation of not only the changes in attitudes but also crucial contextual factors that determined the outcome of the October Revolution. The findings show that, on the demand-side, populist ideas have always been widespread, but required specific material conditions, including explosive corruption scandals and the COVID -19 crisis, and populist cues from the supply-side to become activated.
Centuries ago, Machiavelli wrote his most book, The Prince, and offered it to Lourenço de Medici, hoping that it would be useful to persuade him to accept the challenge of unifying Italy and becoming a new prince. In the second decade of the twentieth century, Gramsci, arrested in the fascist prison, refused the image of a man as new prince, and presented the party-prince as the inventor of a new political and social model. In Portugal, after the end of the dictatorship, Adriano Moreira conceived the Army Force Movement as the very new prince because some members of the military forces, after having overthrown the regime, intended to control the new political conjuncture. Nowadays, all over the world, populist leaders are presenting themselves as the new prince. The only who can embody the pure people and guide it in the fight against the corrupt elite. The chapter analyzes this scenario, identifying the several types of populism and the populist strategies, both while in opposition and after reaching power. Moreover, it points to some financing scandals involving populist parties or leaders and proves that the charisma of the very new prince is rather a problem than a solution for representative democracy.KeywordsPopulismNew princeRepresentative democracyCharismaIlliberal democracy
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After the 2014 elections, the governing coalition of Hungary put migration-related issues on the political agenda as the main theme to regain its domestic legitimacy. One major means for this was the securitisation of the migration discourse by strong binary 324 oppositions and the southern state border, a distinguished place in Hungarian identity through constructing a fence and bolstering its othering function. It faced rejection all over Europe but then garnered some supporters, mostly in post-socialist Europe and among populist parties of Western Europe. The anti-migration stance caused significant communication success and legitimised its pioneer, the Hungarian government. The authors aim to evaluate the political and social impacts of the migration crisis in Hungary through the perspective of the Hungarian domestic political and economic interests and examine the special characteristics of Hungarian populism. Moreover, focus on a new conceptual approach that examines the government's attitude towards migrants dividing them into good and bad groups.
Despite decades of research on the nature and characteristics of populism, and on how political actors interpret populist attitudes, the study of how the public identify populist politicians remains a largely unexplored topic. Is populism in the eye of the beholder? What causes voters to perceive a political actor as populist? Is there any systematic heterogeneity in the evaluation of candidates among citizens according to their individual characteristics? We fill this gap by analysing what characteristics of politicians, and the political statements they make, drive citizens to classify them as populist. Furthermore, we investigate how the cognitive, ideological, and attitudinal profile of citizens shape their perceptions. To this end, we report results of a conjoint experiment embedded in a survey administered to a nationally representative sample of Italian citizens. Respondents were asked to evaluate different political statements by politicians, of whom we manipulated a variety of relevant attributes (e.g., their ideological profile, gender, previous occupation). Results indicate two clear trends: (i) More than the profile of politicians, what matters for their identification as populist is their rhetoric. (ii) The cognitive (with the partial exception of education) and ideological profile of respondents is largely inconsequential. Instead, populist voters are substantively less likely to identify populism as such.
Surveys suggest an erosion of trust in government, among individuals, and between groups. Although these trends are often thought to be bad for democracy, the relationship between democracy and trust is paradoxical. Trust can develop where interests converge, but in politics interests conflict. Democracy recognizes that politics does not provide a natural terrain for robust trust relations, and so includes a healthy distrust of the interests of others, especially the powerful. Democratic systems institutionalize distrust by providing many opportunities for citizens to oversee those empowered with the public trust. At the same time, trust is a generic social building block of collective action, and for this reason alone democracy cannot do without trust. At a minimum, democratic institutions depend on a trust among citizens sufficient for representation, resistance, and alternative forms of governance. Bringing together social science and political theory, this book provides a valuable exploration of these central issues.
Has the Weberian disenchantment with the world finally freed people from the illusion that democracy is a panacea? For the past decade, once the glory and triumph of the western model over the socialist regimes had evaporated, we have been able to observe the numerous manifestations of popular misgivings about political participation and democratic institutions. Democratic malaise (Dahl 1998), the politics of resentment (Betz 1994, 1998a, b), political anomie, and protest movements are among the most frequent manifestations of this disillusion in many western democracies. Both electoral turnout and opinion polls testify to the endurance and extension of the problem. Nor have the new democracies which emerged from the collapse of the socialist systems escaped this general phenomenon of disillusion as shown by the return to power—in sheep’s clothing—of former communist party officials. These challenges to democratic governance vary according to the specificity of each national polity, but share some common features such as the decline of electoral support for political incumbents, a marked increase in electoral abstentionism, the volatility of the electorate, the growing fragmentation of the party system, the emergence of ad hoc social movements unrepresented by traditional political organisations, and the emergence of single-issue and/or radical parties.
List of Illustrations. Preface. Acknowledgements. Introduction. 1. What is Scandal?. 2. The Rise of Mediated Scandal. 3. Scandal as a Mediated Event. 4. The Nature of Political Scandal. 5. Sex Scandals in the Political Field. 6. Financial Scandals in the Political Field. 7. Power Scandals. 8. The Consequences of Scandal. Conclusion. Notes. Index.
From a le pen vote to a national front vote [in french elections] From the 1993 parliamentary elections to those of 1997, the major features of the National Front electorate have not changed: male, urban, not highly educated, working class. Its electoral geography is stable, opposing the mission lands of the West to the bulwarks of the North, the East and the Mediterranean South. But the voting level of the National Front in a parlia­mentary election now matches the presidential election level, and exceeds it very sharply in the departments in which the party has long existed, an indication of its entrenchment and a gua­rantee of its permanence.
Understanding the recent explosion of political scandals in certain European countries requires a close analysis of why previously tolerated practices of party financing became the object of scandal. This article has twin objectives. The first is to understand why the market for ‘corrupt exchange’ surrounding party finance became so extensive in Italy, Spain and France in the 1980s. This we explain by identifying political opportunity structures particular to this group of countries. The second is to understand why formerly routine (albeit covert) corrupt practice became scandalous in the 1990s. This we attribute to a process of ‘competitive mobilisation’ among political, judicial and media élites.