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Are Catalan and Scottish nationalist parties populist? Developing a new framework for the study of populism


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Despite the increasing media and academic attention to populism, discrepancies in how to conceptualise and operationalise it have hindered cumulative progress in the literature. This paper provides a twofold contribution to the study of populism: a new methodology and new cases beyond those typically analysed. First, it develops theoretically a new comparative framework based on the examination and synthesis of the contributions of the most influential authors in the field of populism. It classifies populist features in written discourse into five dimensions: depiction of the polity, morality, construction of society, sovereignty and leadership. This framework is used here to analyse the 'supply side' of populism, and in particular the populist traits in the discourse of political parties. However, the dimensions identified can also serve as basis for understanding the 'demand side', i.e. the presence of populist attitudes and beliefs in the public. Second, this article compares the cases of Scottish and Catalan pro-independence movements from the point of view of the type and intensity of populist features in their public communications. The paper measures and contrasts the salience of each of the five abovementioned dimensions in political manifestos, speeches and written communications from 2014 and 2017. Here the two cases serve as a test for the methodology proposed as well as a reminder that there is a need to expand the analysis of populism to secessionism movements. The findings presented indicate that the Scottish and Catalan nationalist parties, while may not fall within the usual left-wing and right-wing categorisations of populist movements, display populist features in their communications. Most importantly, it serves to illustrate how populism and nationalism, although deeply intertwined, remain distinct concepts and empirical realities. This article shows that despite sharing extremely similar goals Scottish and Catalan pro-independence movements exhibit clear discrepancies in the tone and nature of their political communications when analysed from a populism lenses. Catalan nationalist parties and leaders display a much higher frequency of populist features and a much more passionate style. Not all nationalist movement are populist or at the very least they do not need to exhibit populist features, or a populist logic, in a similar fashion or degree.
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APSA 2019, Washington DC (29 August
Deconstructing and
comparing populism
The cases of SNP and Catalan
independence parties
Dr Jose Javier Olivas Osuna, UNED & LSE
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Deconstructing and comparing populism: The cases of SNP and Catalan
independence parties
The rise of radical right-wing nationalism and populism can be considered among
the main challenges that democracy faces today in Europe. Usually nationalism
articulates ‘the people-as-nation’ while populism considers ‘the people-as-
underdog’. However, the distinction between these concepts continues to be
problematic. The confluence of nationalism and populism in certain policy areas
and claims, such as the defense of people’s sovereignty and the critiques to supra-
national elites has further contributed to the association of both concepts.
Dissecting the concept of populism into its basic components can help disentangle
both concepts and contribute to address the problems of conceptual stretching and
scarcity of comparative work which affect this field of study.
This paper develops theoretically and applies empirically a new comparative
methodology for the study of populism which deconstructs this complex
phenomenon into five dimensions: depiction of the polity, morality, construction of
society, sovereignty and leadership. These dimensions capture the essential
elements the most influential experts in the field have associated to the term
populism. Each of these dimensions of populist logic can be linked with different
types of threats for pluralist democracies.
The paper illustrates this approach through the analysis of the political manifestos,
speeches and written communications of the main Catalan nationalist parties and
SNP from 2014 and 2017 and it shows how populism and nationalism, although
deeply intertwined, remain distinct concepts and empirical realities. Despite
sharing extremely similar goals Scottish and Catalan pro-independence movements
exhibit clear discrepancies in the tone and nature of their political communications
when analysed from a populism lenses. Catalan nationalist parties and leaders
present a much higher frequency of populist features and a much more
passionate/emotional style. This analysis suggests that not all nationalist
movement are populist or at the very least they do not display populist features, or
a populist logic, in a similar fashion or degree. This effort of conceptual
clarification can be crucial to develop specific strategies necessary to tackle the
different problems brought about by populism and nationalism.
Populism, nationalism, secessionism, methodology, content analysis, political
communications, discourses, narratives, Scotland, Catalonia
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Populism is often cited as one of the most prominent challenges to western-style
pluralist democracy (Mudde & Rovira-Kaltwasser 2012; Müller 2014: 491, 2016: 10-
11). The scarcity of systematic empirical studies on populism (Moffit 2016: 21-22) is
partially linked to the disputed nature of the concept and the discrepancies between
scholarly approaches. While some researchers consider populism an ideology
(Mudde 2004, Stanley 2008), others define it as political strategy employed by some
charismatic leaders to reach or exercise power (Weyland 2001: 14, Betz 2002: 198;
Pappas 2012: 2) or focus on the discursive (Laclau 2005a, Jagers & Walgrave 2007)
or performative nature of the phenomenon (Moffit 2016, Ostiguy 2017). Although
these approaches are not mutually exclusive, they have different implications on the
the concept is operationalised (Aslanidis 2016: 92-93, Bonikowski & Gidron 2016: 9).
The methodology introduced in the first part of this article aims at paving the way to
further cumulative quantitative and qualitative comparative work on populist
movements. It also attempts to provide a new framework through which analyse
narratives, discourses and attitudes. Although the approach adopted is compatible
with that of the authors who understand populism as a ‘thin ideology’, it does not
operationalise populism as a discrete variable (a party is populist or not). This paper
shows that parties and leaders may display a variety of populist features in different
degrees in their actions and communications (Aslanidis 2016: 92, Moffit 2016: 154,
Bernhard & Kriesi: 17). It dissects populism into five dimensions: antagonistic
depiction of the polity, morality, idealised construction of society, sovereignty, and
The second part of this article operationalises this framework in a comparison of
political communications of Catalan and Scottish nationalist movements. It conducts
a content analysis (Bauer 2000) of the political manifestos, speeches and press
articles by the main pro-independence parties and coalitions in Scotland (SNP) and
Catalonia (ERC, Junts pel Sí, Junts per Catalunya) and some of their leaders (Nicola
Sturgeon, Alex Salmond, John Swinney, Artur Mas, Carles Puigdemont, Oriol
Junqueras). Most current studies on populism focus on either right-wing or left-wing
populist movements in the Americas or Europe, including Eurosceptic right-wing
parties (Mudde 2007, Wodak et al. 2013), American nationalism (Skocpol &
Williamson 2012, Bonikowski & DiMaggio 2016), personalistic Latin American
populisms (de la Torre 2010; Philip & Panizza 2013) and Southern European left-
wing populism (Stavrakakis & Katsambekis 2013; Ramiro and Gómez 2017). With
the exception of the study of the far-right Lega Nord (McDonnell 2006, Zaslove 2011)
and Vlaams Blok (Jagers & Walgrave 2007), little attention has been paid to the
analysis of pro-independence movements from a populism angle.
The paper shows that the frequency of populist features observed in the speeches and
written communications of Catalan pro-independence parties is considerably higher
than that observed in equivalent SNP documents. Not only the degree, but also the
nature of populism varies. This work helps reject the hypothesis that all nationalist
movements are populist or use similarly populist discourses.
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Reconciling different approaches to populism
Already in the seminal conference To Define Populism held at the London School of
Economics and Political Science (LSE) in May 1967 and which set the agenda in the
field for the years to come, profound discrepancies emerged in how to conceptualise
and operationalise this somewhat elusive concept (Berlin 1968, Ionescu & Gellner
1969). Experts participating in that pioneering conference suggested the complex
relationship between populism and nationalism and the conceptual confusion it
generated. Some claimed that nationalism transformed or corrupted populism
(Andreski & Venturi cited by Berlin 1968: 162), others that populism was a type of
nationalism which equated ‘the nation’ and ‘the people’ (Stewart 1969: 183-185) or
that populism often led to nationalism (Ionescu & Walicki cited by Berlin 1968: 169,
Usually nationalism articulates ‘the people-as-nation’ while populism considers the
people-as-underdog’. However, disentangling these concepts continues to be a
problem not only in the public sphere but also in academia where populism is still
used very often to refer to radical right wing nationalism (De Cleen & Stavrakakis
2017: 302). Some of the critiques to populism are often, in fact, critiques to
exclusionary nationalist movements, which may be populist, but for actions or
discourses which do not necessarily follow a populist logic. The confluence of
nationalism and populism in certain policy areas and claims, such as the defense of
sovereignty and the critiques to supra-national elites has further contributed to the
association of both concepts (De Cleen 2017: 349-355). Moreover, both terms have
been historically linked to a variety of very dissimilar movements which somehow
ended up under the conceptual umbrella of (either or both) ‘populism’ or
‘nationalism’ and been often subject of generalisations and categorisations not very
conducive to theoretical progress (Minogue 1969: 199-200). In order to better
understand some contemporary political movements, it is important to analytically
disentangle their nationalist and populist components, each of which has its own
logic (Bonikowski 2017: S206).
The diversity of groups considered as populist is, indeed, one of the main difficulties
faced by those trying to establish a common definition. Berlin (1968: 138-155),
identified five historical types of populism: Russian populism which was a nineteenth
century reaction against the development of capitalism; North American populisms,
which were a more individualistic type of populism which opposed financial interests
in the late nineteenth century; Latin American Populisms which were rural and
urban movements against the traditional elites developed mainly in the second half
of the twentieth century; African populisms which tended to be driven by leaders in
government and glorified the ordinary individual; and Asian populisms which
included a series of less cohesive national populisms which usually idealised village
life as an opposition to western individualism.
In addition to them, many new populist movements emerged throughout the
twentieth century, such as European radical right-wing (Lochocki 2018) and left-
wing populists (Stavrakakis & Katsambeki 2014). The growing populist trend has
even accelerated since the early 1990s (Mudde 2004: 548-551; Roberts: 2007).
Different aspects and theoretical approaches have been (and continue to be)
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emphasised and there are persistent discrepancies across cases (e.g. Mény & Surel
2002: 20, 101-175; Rovira-Kaltwasser et al. 2017: 101-263). Populism cannot be
consistently identified with a particular type of policies, political ideology or socio-
economic group (Müller 2016: 11-19).
The large and increasing set of movements termed as populist in this field of study,
each of them with different characteristics, have contributed to the problem of
conceptual stretching (Collier & Mahon 1993). The term populism has been
sometimes used as a loose label or identifier without deep theoretical implications in
some analyses. Some authors have studied the emergence and success of populist
parties without putting excessive emphasis on the implications of their analyses in
terms of the conceptualisation of populism (e.g. Inglehart & Norris 2017, Rodrik
Capturing the meaning of populism is difficult not only because of the diverse
dimensions and features emphasised by different scholars, but also due to the fact
that often those individuals or groups described as populist are not aware or reject
being part of a family of such movements. Populism is often used in a pejorative
sense or even to describe fascism (Griffin 1991: 26). Moreover, populism is not a
typology with an inclusive shared tradition to which individuals or movements
voluntarily adhere to, but an analytical status attributed by external analysts
(Worsely 1969: 218-220, Freeden 2017: 9). This limits the sources available to
researchers in the process of identification and assessment of populism. In some rare
cases, the populist label is assumed by extreme right-wing activist from a fascist
tradition as a way to legitimise or ‘de-demonise’ their movements (Mammone 2009:
183-187, Eatwell 2017: 379-381). Therefore, this self-identification is not very
conducive to conceptual clarity either, as it obscures major ideological differences in
the foundations of fascism and populism.
While some scholars have focused on empirical and historical researches of specific
movements, often without a clear comparative drive, others have devoted their
efforts to identify the common essential ideas, components or motives underpinning
populist movements. Inspired by Sartori’s (1970: 1038-1044) ladder of abstraction
some scholars have opted for identifying a lowest common denominator and creating
minimal definitions with the core components of the concept (Mudde & Rovira-
Kaltwasser 2013; Rooduijn 2014; Vittori 2017). Lessening the number of clearly
defined properties necessary and sufficient to be part of a category, such as populism,
allows a concept to be applied to a variety of cases and contexts, without having to
render it excessively vague or abstract.
However, agreeing on a minimal definition or at least on the essential nature of
populism has been also a great challenge. The discrepancies in terms of
conceptualisation can be already observed in the LSE foundational conference where
a myriad of definitions where presented; some panellists considered populism
primarily as an ideology while others emphasised rhetoric used by members of
populist movements and the utilisation or manipulation of certain ideas and
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discourses as a political tool (Berlin 1968: 167-179, Minogue 1969: 198).
Ever since,
four broad approaches to the conceptualisation of populism can be distinguished: (1)
an ideational approach which considers populism as a political ideology; (2) a
political-strategic approach which focuses on the actions of political leader to reach
and exercise power; (3) a discursive approach which focuses in how populism claims
are articulated; and (4) a performative approach which includes a socio-cultural
dimension and focuses on political styles (Gidron & Bonikowski 2016; Moffit 2016:
17-25, 41-43, Rovira-Kaltwasser 2017: 14; Mudde 2017: 39-40). Much of the
academic debate still revolves around the choice of basic approach as basis for theory
One of the most influential approaches is the one considering populism as a ‘thin’ or
‘thin-centred ideology’ that considers society to be ultimately divided into two
antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite(Mudde 2004: 543,
Stanley 2008, Mudde & Rovira-Kaltwasser 2017). This conception, inspired by
Freeden (1996) suggests that populism does not offer a complete worldview and fail
to exhibit the degree of consistency, depth and scope of other full developed, thick,
ideologies such as socialism and liberalism. This also helps explain why populism is
compatible and is usually combined with other ideologies such as socialism or
However, not everyone finds the ideology perspective as the preferred basis for a
long-term research agenda. Laclau, suggests shifting the focus of analysis away from
movements and ideologies. This means a displacement of conceptualisation from the
content to the form or the discourse (Laclau 2005b: 44). He proposes political
practices as unit of analyses as they are not only reflective but constitutive of social
agents. This entails to identify as populists a movement not because it has a specific
ideology, but because it shows a particular logic of articulation of social, political or
ideological content (Laclau 2005b: 33-34; Judis 2016, De Cleen 2017:345-347).
Similarly, Bonikowski and Gidron (2016:10-13) and Aslanidis (2016:92-93, 100-101),
albeit recognising the prominence and contribution of the ideological
conceptualisation, stress some methodological limitations and analytical
implications that would recommend a shift towards a discursive approach.
Understanding populism exclusively as an ideology or political identity may lead to
binary assessments of whether a movement, a party or a leader is populist or not. By
shifting the focus to the characteristics of the political discourse or style employed,
researchers may turn the analysis from a matter of nature to a matter of degree.
Political movements may exhibit a variable degree of populist attributes (Deegan-
Krause and Haughton 2009: 822, Aslanidis 2016: 92-93, Moffit 2016:154). In fact,
even some of the authors who define populism as an ideology and adopted a
dichotomous approach when assessing political parties, have already measured and
shown the varying level of ‘populist attitudes’ across voters (Hawkins et al. 2012: 23,
Van Hauwaert & Van Kessel 2018: 70, 86). If it is worth studying the different
degrees of populist attitudes among voters, why shouldn’t we similarly try to measure
the different degrees of populist features exhibited by political parties and leaders?
Berlin referred to the use of populist ideas for political ends as ‘false populism’ and warned of the
mobilisation of certain popular sentiments, sometimes genuine, for undemocratic purposes (Berlin 1968: 177).
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Moreover, these different research approaches are not mutually exclusive as populist
strategies, discourses and styles are usually grounded on certain populist ideological
traits of the political leaders or the people they aim at influencing. There are
connexions between the ideological, believe in, and attitudinal and performative
aspects of populism, live or act as a populist (Berlin 1968 citing F. Venturi: 140,
Ostiguy 2017: 74, 92). Although at a theoretical level these different approaches to
the conceptualisation of populism reflect meaningful ontological discrepancies, at an
empirical level they cannot always be captured in a reliable way (Mudde 2017: 31).
While researchers may struggle to insulate the ultimate motives or principles driving
populist parties, leaders and voters, they can more easily grasp communication
frames and claims, as well as expressed preferences or attitudes. Political
communications are commonly recognised as relevant sources of empirical data in
most of the approaches (Ostiguy 2017: 91) and can reflect both ideational and
instrumental facets of populism. Rather than focusing on a minimal definition with a
sufficient or necessary element, this paper proposes as approach to identify a set of
different basic elements or features which are part of the ideational, discursive or
stylistic repertoire populists draw from (Brubaker 2017: 360-362, De la Torre &
Mazzoleni 2019).
Theoretically deconstructing populism into five dimensions
This paper wants to contribute to bridge the gap between different ontological
research approaches to populism by providing a common method to generate,
analyse and compare data. Despite the abovementioned discrepancies on the essence
of populism -a political ideology, a strategy, a discourse or a style-, there is a wider
consensus on several of the key features associated to populism (Moffit 2016: 26).
This section identifies five dimensions of populism present in the most influential
conceptualisations of the term: (1) depiction of the polity, (2) morality, (3)
construction of society, (4) sovereignty, (5) leadership. Each of these dimensions
accommodates ideological and instrumental aspects. The former are linked to
general principles and ideas which may reflect or inform a political doctrine or a
general set of beliefs. The latter are related to more specific references to a political
context, concrete institutions or policies. This approach assumes that it is the
combination of several of these, often overlapping, features or elements what is
characteristic of populism and what generates the variety and complexity observed
empirically (Brubaker 2017: 361).
These five dimensions, proposed as common identifiers of populism, are applied as a
comparative framework to detect and contrast the frequency of populist, and anti-
populist, features in political texts from Catalan and Scottish independence parties.
Thus this paper focuses on the ‘supply side’ of populism (Mudde 2007, Guiso et al.
2017), but the framework can be equally operationalised to analyse the ‘demand side’
too, i.e. people’s attitudes. Table 1 briefly describes the framework which is
developed theoretically throughout this section. Figure 1 illustrates how these
dimensions are interconnected and synergic.
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Table 1: Comparative framework based on five dimensions of populism
Populist features in text
Depiction of
the polity
Dual and antagonistic
description of polity: ‘us’ vs
‘them’, ‘the people’ vs ‘the
elite’ or ‘the other’
Rejection of political,
legal and/or economic
establishment. Claims
for radical change
No dichotomous or
antagonistic depiction
of the polity
Endorsement or approval
of political, legal and
economic establishment.
Claims for gradual
Moral interpretation of
actors. Moral distinction and
hierarchy (superiority and
inferiority). General lack of
legitimacy of the other.
discourse. Illegitimate
behaviour of the other
political actors.
Political actors are
described on an equal
moral ground
Recognition of the
legitimacy of other actors
and their actions.
Problems attributed to
one’s own actions
of society
Idealisation of society. Anti-
pluralist depiction of ‘the
people’ focused on identity,
nationhood and/or
ahistorical ‘heartland’
Emphasis on
difference with ‘the
other’ and in-group
social/political spaces.
Exclusionary claims
depiction of society.
Pluralist depiction of
the people
Emphasis on
commonalities with ‘the
other’ and in-group
Recognition of a common
space. Inclusive claims
Absence of limits to popular
sovereignty. Focus on
majoritarian rule
Emphasis on direct
democracy tools.
Policy solutions driven
by the will of the
Popular sovereignty
limited by laws and
formal rights.
Consensus building
Emphasis on
democratic tools.
Complexity in decision-
making. Minorities
considered in decision
Leaders voice ‘the will of the
people’. Leaders represent
people’s interest. Non-
mediated relation with the
Focus on the actions,
decisions and ideas of
leaders. Idealisation of
their achievements
Leaders’ relations with
people mediated by
institutions. Political
parties represent
people’s interests
Focus on the actions,
decisions and ideas of
political parties.
Figure 1: Interactions between populism dimensions
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Antagonistic depiction of the polity
Probably one of the most widely agreed features of populism is the antithetical
depiction of ‘the people’ versus ‘the other’, usually the elite (Stavrakakis 2004: 259;
Laclau 2005b: 39; Deiwiks 2009: 1). Society in general and the polity in specific are
symbolically divided between the people (‘us’) and ‘the other’ (‘them’). The people
are considered by populists as ‘the underdog’ and defined through their relation of
antagonism with ‘the other’ which is considered not only as political opponents but
as ‘enemies of the people’ (Panizza 2005: 3; Müller 2016: 4). Populism is often
characterised as a sort of reaction or negativism, usually anti-elite and anti-
establishment but sometimes also anti-capitalistic, anti-intellectual, anti-migrants or
anti-semitic (Worsley and Ionescu cited in Berlin 1968: 168-169, Wiles 1969: 167,
Bonikowski 2017: 184-185).
As in the case of nationalists, populists often rely on a post-modern logic of inclusion
and exclusion, according to which symbolic boundaries and belonging to the in-
group are grounded on specific notions of ‘national culture’ which are socially
constructed and reconstructed (Lochocki 2018: 23). Boundaries between groups,
sometimes based on territory, language or biological traits, are justified following the
logic of ‘cultural differentialism’ and the right of people to preserve their distinctive
identity (Bornschier 2010: 422-423; Ritzer & Yagatich 2016: 112-113). Xenophobia
and nativism are features which have been traditionally associated to right-wing
populism. For instance, othering immigrants, in order to reinforce ‘the self, is a
recurrent strategy in European radical right populism (Fielder & Catalano 2017:209).
However, not all forms of antagonism in populism are grounded on cultural, ethnic
or territorial boundaries. The Manichean distinction between the common or
ordinary people and the ‘elite’ is arguably the form of antagonism shared by most
populist movements both at the left and right of the political spectrum, from Latin
American Bolivarian to Eurosceptic British populists. Thus, while in nationalism
antagonism is always based on a somewhat horizontal or territorial conception of the
in/out group divide, populists often rely on a more vertical or hierarchical distinction
(De Cleen & Stavrakakis 2017: 309-312) usually against those on the top, ‘elites’, but
also sometimes against those to the bottom, ‘deviants’ and ‘underserving’ (Brubaker
2019: 11).
The anti-status quo discourse is essential to populism (Panizza 2005: 3-4) which is
more anti-establishment than anarchist in principle (Wiles cited in Berlin 1968: 159).
Populism can be construed as a counter hegemonic endeavour to cultivate the
aspirations of ordinary people and challenge status quo (Grattan 2016: 10-11, 14-18).
Populism tends to be fuelled by the anger and frustration of citizens (Müller 2016: 9,
15-17) and seeks a sort of rebellion of the common people against the political and
socio-economic elites which exploit or oppress them. The political and economic
establishment is challenged by the construction of a collective ‘underdog’ (Laclau
2005b: 44). There is complex relation between populism and the institutional
setting. Populists usually ask for drastic changes in the political system or the most
Vertical and horizontal oppositions could be construed as constitutively intertwined (Brubaker 2019: 15).
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important institutions in a country. Scepticism against political institutions is based
on the idea that they have become the instruments of the ‘corrupt elite’ and obstacles
to the expression of the ‘will of the people’. Moreover, populist movements tend to
gain strength from the perceived crises and system breakdowns and favour swift
actions over gradual change and long deliberation (Moffit 2016: 45). However,
populists are not opposed to the utilisation and adaptation of institutions as
instrument to achieve their ideals. When in power, populists tend to abuse state
institutions and engage in corruption and mass clientelism (Müller 2016: 4).
Moral interpretation of political actors
There seem to be academic consensus in attributing to populism a moral or
normative interpretation of ‘the people’ as opposed to an empirical one, with an
emphasis on distinction between the ‘pure’ or ‘virtuous people’ and the ‘corrupt elite’
as a core attribute of populism (Mudde 2004:543, Laclau 2005b: 4, Arato 2013: 156).
Wiles (1969: 167) argues that populism is ‘moralistic rather than programmatic’ and
that logic and effectiveness are not as highly valued as righteousness. Populists claim
a higher moral ground than any other political movement as theirs is the only
morally acceptable representation of the people. They consider themselves as the
exclusive defenders of the common good and representatives of ‘the people’ (Müller
2016: 3). Rejecting the legitimacy of political opponents is a consequence of the
moral distinction populists make. Whoever competes with populists or opposes their
claims is not part of ‘the people’ and usually termed as illegitimate or corrupt. For
instance, in the USA, some right-wing populists claimed that Barack Obama was not
American by questioning his birth certificate, and in Venezuela Nicolás Maduro has
repeatedly called ‘traitors to the fatherland’ the members of the opposition.
The moral dimension is also reflected in the blame (Vasilopoulou et al. 2014) and
victimisation discourses employed by populists, which are constitutive of and
constituted by their antagonistic depiction of the polity. Ad hominem attacks tend to
supersede criticisms on the substance of opponents’ policy proposals. Moreover, the
political psychology of populism is associated to the feeling that conspiracies against
the ‘people’ are at work (Berlin 1968: 169). In their narratives, populists often portray
‘the people’ as victims of the establishment and themselves as David fighting against
Goliath, the exploitative and oppressive elites (Mouffé 2005: 64). Although some
nationalists also rely on moral arguments to delegitimise the ‘other’, that is not an
intrinsic feature of nationalism. Nationalists tend rely on a more horizontal and less
hierarchical way of articulating divides and do not need to delegitimise the opponent
but simply to recall that the other has conflicting interests, as for instance in the
realist tradition of thought.
Populism can be characterised to some extent as an ‘elitist anti-elitism’. Leonard Schapiro refers to populist
movements as elitist in their methods but not in their aims (Cited in Berlin 1968: 70). Populist movements do
not always start with the people but often with intellectuals (Berlin citing Watson, 1968: 140). Mudde et al.
(2017: 12) argue that the distinction between the people and the elite is moral, not situational, this allows
them to maintain an anti-establishment discourse even when they are in power.
For instance see New York Times 16 September 2016 and La Vanguardia 30
August 2017
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The moral dimension is compounded with their disregard for the status quo and
complex relationship with institutions. Most populist movements express the
necessity of a moral regeneration (Berlin 1968: 174). The abuse of institutions and
corruption scandals rarely hurt decisively populist leaders and parties and those
criticising their abuses are vilified and treated as traitors to the people (Müller 2017:
593). In addition to the utilisation of the state apparatus for partisan or personal
interests, populists often launch reforms to modify the legal and institutional setting
to advance their agenda. Populist leaders such as Viktor Orbán, Jaroslaw Kaczynski,
Jörg Haider and Hugo Chávez tend to ‘occupy’ and reshape institutions for their
personal or party interest (Arato 203: 157, Müller 2016: 44-49).
Idealised construction of society
Another common feature of populism is the ahistorical and anti-pluralist idealisation
of society, which tend to focus on a homogenous collective identity. Most populist
accounts root their conception of ‘the people in a romanticised ‘heartland’, an
idolised community, usually associated to a specific territory, retrospectively
constructed. Mudde (2004: 546) compares the populist ‘heartland’ to the ‘imagined
community’ concept that Anderson (1983) introduced in the study of nationalism.
Unlike utopian visions in other ideologies which ground their descriptions of an ideal
community in the future, populist constructions of the ‘heartland’ are usually based
on an emotional and ahistorical conception of the past (Taggart 2002: 67-70). For
instance, Walicki (cited in Berlin 1968:171) refers to a backward-looking utopianism
which idealises peasants and pre-capitalist relations, and McRae (1969: 155-156)
describes it as a special primitivism that longed for an idealised agrarian community.
However, populism cannot be considered exclusively backward looking. Worsley
(cited in Berlin 1968: 168) referred to the Janus syndrome: populism looked back in
order to look forward. As Touraine (cited by Berlin, 1968: 157) argues, populism
usually defends some traditional values and at the same time is oriented towards
economic and social change.
Shared understandings of this past ‘heartland contribute to the sense of fraternity,
majority and unity among populists, regardless of the real bonds and real percentage
of the population they represent. But this approach also reinforces the protectionist
and antagonistic vision of ‘the people’. The positive features of this past community,
as selected in the construction of the ‘heartland’, are presented as eroded or
endangered by ‘the other’, either the corrupt elite or the destabilising migrants.
Therefore, fighting and defeating ‘the other’ is the way to achieve plenitude and re-
establish the ‘heartland’ (Panizza 2005: 3-4).
Homogeneity and exclusion are also key elements of populists’ interpretation of
society (Jagers & Walgrave 2007: 323). Theirs is a monist conception of ‘the people’
as a good and homogeneous group as opposed to the ‘corrupt other’ (Müller 2014:
491; Mudde et al. 2017: 7). This approach poses a challenge to modern notions of
democracy which are largely based on diversity and plurality. The people’, as
understood by populists do not encompass the entirety of the population. It is an
idealisation of a people, or Volk, rather than the people (Berlin citing Donald Mac
Rae 1968: 172). Populism, thus, entails the fantasy of the people-as-one’ in a state
free of division (Laclau 2005a: 165-166; Arditi 2005: 95-96) which derives from the
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unification of heterogeneous viewpoints and political demands around symbolic and
vague claims based on an ideal state of social unity and homogeneity (Arato 2013:
158). This construction of society is only possible thanks to the production of ‘empty
signifiers’. These are vague and malleable conceptualisations of universal ideals,
which have a homogenising function in a highly heterogeneous reality (Laclau
2005b: 39-40).
The dissonance between the ‘empirical’ or ‘actual people, and their ‘ideal people
pushes populists to request the extraction of part of the people from within the
people (Lefort 1988: 79, Müller 2014). Populists not only antagonise ‘the others’, who
they recognise morally inferior, but they also try to exclude them altogether (Müller
2016: 4). Populist leaders, using a pars pro toto argument usually claim exclusive
representation, by equating their part of the people with entirety of ‘the people’
(Müller 2016: 20-25). The underserving and corrupt minorities; ‘the elite’, ‘the
caste’, ‘the colonisers’, ‘the immigrants’, do not really belong to the demos or the
‘heartland’ and, therefore, the ‘true’ or ‘authentic’ people must fight to ‘have their
country back’ (Panizza 2017: 409-411). Populist logic produces sometimes the
dehumanisation of the enemy and becomes a justification for authoritarianism in the
process of extrication of ‘the people’ from its empirical form (Arato 2013: 167).
Absence of limits to popular sovereignty
The ideal of popular sovereignty is central to populism (Panizza 2005: 4-5; Jagers
and Walgrave, 2007: 323) and largely derives from the dimensions presented above.
Populism entails the supremacy of the people over any political or legal institution
and an unmediated relationship between the people and the government (Shils 1956:
98-104, Mair 2002: 89, 91). The mass of individuals, ‘the people’, is the rightful
sovereign and it can ascertain what is best for the collective (Hawkins 2009: 1043).
Following this logic, ‘the will of the people’ or ‘volonté générale’ should not be
constrained by legal or political institutions. Populists understand ‘democracy’ as the
government by the sovereign people not as that of politicians and civil servants
(Canovan 2002: 33-37). Therefore, populists tend to favour direct democracy over
representative democracy, and downplay the role of parties and constitutional
This approach emanates from the dualistic and moral interpretation which divides
society between the ‘good people’ and ‘the evil other’. As explained earlier, populists
are suspicious of laws and institutions which could limit the ‘will of the people and
which probably have been created or corrupted by the ‘elites’. They are often hostiles
to the discourses of rights as these can serve to shield minorities from the will of the
majority. This lack of limits to popular sovereignty can be understood as an extreme
conception of majoritarian rule (Mudde 2013: 4) which can pave the way to a
potential tyranny of the majority (Stavrakakis 2005: 239).
The understanding of popular sovereignty and majoritarian conception of politics
fosters a reliance on direct democracy instruments, such as referendums, public
consultations and popular initiatives. This trust on direct democracy also resonates
with populists’ dichotomisation and simplification of social and political realities
(Lyrintzis 1990: 49). For them, the usual legal and institutional procedures of
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decision making associated to representative democracy require legitimation and
need to be submitted, at least symbolically, to the authority of the people.
This popular sovereignty logic may contribute to enfranchise citizens by widening
political participation and grasping their attention on policy issues (Canovan 1999:
14-16, 2002: 42-43). This interpretation presents populism as a sort of empowering
ideal or discourse, which provides a corrective measure for democracy. However, it
also assumes that the common good which is easily discernible by the people leading
to simplistic solutions based on common sense’, often at odds with the opinion of
experts (Müller 2016: 25-31; Mudde et al. 2017: 16-17, 68). Thus, populist leaders
such as Orban, Trump or Maduro propose ‘obvious’ or ‘easy’ solutions to some of the
complex challenges their countries are facing.
Reliance on charismatic leadership
The reliance on charismatic leaders has been considered an important feature in
populism (Taggart 2000: 100-103, Laclau 2005a: 99-100). Populist movements
often emerge when personalistic leaders mobilise and receive support from a large
and uninstitutionalised mass of people (Weyland 2001: 4-18). From this point of
view, populism could be considered as a top-down political mass mobilisation
(Levitsky & Roberts, 2011: 6-7). Sometimes the name of the movement is even
associated to that of the leader, such as French Poujadisme, Argentinian Peronismo
and Venezuelan Chavismo. Those leaders are considered by populists a sort of
embodiment or incarnation of ‘the people’ who are capable of discerning and voicing
the ‘general will’ (Müller 2016: 32-38). Populists leaders claim to articulate the ‘will
of the people’ and act as ‘the spokesperson of the vox populi’ (Kriesi 2014: 363).
This is a somewhat unmediated relationship between ‘the people’ and the ‘leader’
who can feel their wishes and voices them, without the need of conventional party
structures and traditional institutional channels of communication.
This idealised
unmediated connection between populist leaders and their people resonates with the
concept of sovereignty described above. Following a similar logic, Arato argues that
populism can be considered as a ‘disguised political theology’ which follows the
‘kings’s two-bodies’ metaphor (Kantorowicz 1981) in which the leader embodies the
popular subject and contributes to prevent ‘the people’ to fall into disunity.
For example, Nicolas Maduro launched the Plan Conejo (‘rabbit plan’) to solve the food crisis in Venezuela (15
September 2017, El Nacional
para-combatir-hambre_203385 ). Donald Trump claiming that bringing peace to the Middle East is ‘not as
difficult as people have thought over years’ (4 May 2017, The Times Viktor Orban states
the ‘obvious connection’ between terrorism and migration (21 July 2016, Reuters
between-terrorism-and-migration-idUSKCN1011FM )
Moffit shows that this idealised direct connection between populists leaders and their people is in fact
intensely mediated by new media technology and that the process of mediatisation may be helping populism
(Moffit 2016: 156-157)
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Leadership and a strong antagonistic discourse compensate for the vagueness of the
political ideology (Arato 2013: 156-166).
The nature of the populist leadership is nonetheless diverse (Müller 2016: 32-38).
There are charismatic strongmen or strongwoman, entrepreneurs and ‘ethnic
leaders’. Some of them are relatively new to politics and their leadership may have
been constructed ‘bottom-up’ while others have been members of pre-existing
political parties or state institutions for years (Müller 2016: 34; Mudde et al. 2017:
62-78). Sometimes, charismatic leaders do not formally lead the party or run for
elections, such as Grillo in Italy. In other cases, these leaders are replaced without
deep consequences to the movement, such as the case of the leadership of the Danish
People’s Party. However, some authors argue that the presence of a charismatic
leader is a facilitating element, rather than a requirement (Zúquete 2017: 455) and
that personalist leadership is not a phenomenon exclusive to populism (Panizza
2017: 412).
Measuring populism
This paper operationalises the framework developed in the previous section through
a classical content analysis to capture the populist features emanating from political
manifestos and short communications of the most prominent Catalan and Scottish
pro-independence parties and actors. The relation between political actors and the
world is mediated or constructed by language, in the form of talk and texts. The
production of text is intertwined with the production of ideology (Franzosi 2004:
24). Through the analysis of political communications populist ideologies and
discourses may be identified empirically (Kriesi 2014: 364).
The use of content analysis is not new to the study of populism (Hawkins 2009,
Koopmans & Muis 2009, Aslanidis 2018). This methodology intends to produce
quantifiable evidence about a set of categories by a systematic analysis of a set of
texts (Krippendorff 1980: 21, Weber 1985:9, Bryman 2016: 284). This paper follows
an approach that reconciles Sartori’s (1970) call for exclusive classes and while giving
room to Goertz’ (2006) interpretation of social realities as conceptual continuums.
During the pilot stage of this content analysis methodology, the definition of
categories and subcategories and the specific coding rules followed continuous back
and forths between inductive and deductive thinking. The broad categories elicited
from a previous analysis of the literature were gradually tested and redefined against
the pilot texts (Flick 2006: 301-302). There was an effort to maintain an internal
coherence among the attributes which associate text units to certain populist
features, as well as an external differentiation with those which would indicate that a
sentence is either not populist or anti-populist (Gerring 1999: 173-177).
Six political manifestos and 19 short communications, including newspaper articles
and speeches, published between 2014 and 2017, were analysed (Tables 2 and 3). All
Arato (2013: 146-147) two bodies of the king, the one of the mortal man and the political one which
embodies the commonwealth. The lack of clarity and complexity in determining the will of the sovereign
people can be interpreted in theological terms as a sort of divinity which requires of a ‘church-like entity’.
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texts found for that period in the official websites of independence political parties
and coalitions, as well as via searches in LexisNexis and Google were analysed and
coded. Populists and anti-populists features were coded according to five dimensions
and two subcategories, ideological and instrumental, described in the previous
section (Table 1). Sentences were recorded as indicators of such features and kept in
a file for consistency checks and transparency purposes. They were not only counted
but later revised and analysed qualitatively.
Table 2: Long texts analysed
Programa electoral
Junts pel Si
Junts Pel Sí
Eleccions al
Parlament 2017
Programa electoral
la democràcia
sempre guanya
Eleccions al
Parlament de
Catalunya 21 de
desembre de 2017:
Programa Electoral
Junts per
Stronger for
Stronger for
Table 3: Short texts analysed
Juntos Hacemos el
Artur Mas
A los Españoles
Artur Mas
et al.
Discurs d’Oriol
Junqueras en l’acte
d’inici de campanya
Spain’s leadership
vacuum is damaging
Catalonia and Europe
it has to end
Que gane el diálogo,
que las urnas decidan
and Oriol
Spain’s attempt to
block Catalonia’s
referendum is a
violation of our basic
'That's all folks'
Artur Mas
Catalonia Will Not
Not all non-populist sentences or sets of sentences are coded as ‘anti-populists’. Coders must decide if a
sentence makes a reference to a populist feature, to an anti-populist feature or if it does not clearly link to any
of the two (in that case they are not coded).
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This is not just about
Catalonia. This is
about democracy itself
perseverando y con
unidad de acción
We can’t trust Madrid
to oversee Catalonia’s
election the EU
must step in
Alex Salmond's New
Stateman lecture
Concession speech
Nicola Sturgeon's
Opening Speech
Nicola Sturgeon’s
speech on Scotland’s
Nicola Sturgeon’s
speech at the SNP
General Election
manifesto launch
First Minister Nicola
Sturgeon's statement
on the Programme for
John Swinney's
speech at the SNP
Nicola Sturgeon’s
speech to the SNP
The ‘anti-populist’ categories in each of the five dimensions act as negative poles
(Goetz 2006: 27-35) which contribute to the conceptual clarity and facilitate the
work of the coder. Moreover, anti-populist features provide another element for
comparison across documents and movements. An assessment of the degree of
populism, may not only take into consideration populist features but also those
which may indicate a more ‘pluralist’ or ‘liberal democratic’ ideology, discourse or
attitude. It is important to note that elitism is sometimes considered as an additional
polar opposite to populism (Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser 2013: 152-153; Müller 2017:
593). However, elitism embraces the antagonistic angle elite vs the people’, as well
as utilises moral justifications and even distorted depictions of society, which means
that its value as negative pole would be limited in our methodology. Therefore the
‘anti-populist’ category coded here refers mainly to a ‘pluralist’ or ‘liberal democratic’
Evidence coded here includes not only the explicit references to populist and anti-
populist features, which could be potentially captured through content analysis
software, but also implicit references requiring the active search and interpretation
of ideas and themes by the coder. Several tests and controls have been undertaken to
ensure coding reliability.
The type and frequency of populist features in the texts
All documents were coded and analysed by the author due to the effort required (six months of work) and
the 3 languages involved (Catalan, English and Spanish). An inter-coder reliability test was performed with the
help of media expert Dr Maria Kyriakidou, Cardiff University (with approximately 90% coincidence between
two different coders). Coding was revised afterwards to ensure internal consistency. Texts and the archive
which contains all coded sentences are available remotely upon request.
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allow capturing different degrees in populist discourses or attitudes (see following
Comparative analysis
This section contrasts the type and salience of populist features emerging in the texts
according to the dimensions of populism developed theoretically earlier in this
paper. The most striking finding is the great disparity in terms of frequency of
populist features. While in SNP manifestos there are overall 1.56 populist references
per 1,000 words, in the Catalan manifestos analysed there are 4.18 references. This
discrepancy is exacerbated in short texts. The texts of Catalan nationalist leaders
have overall 19.98 references per 1,000 words, 5 times more populist references than
the speeches of SNP leaders. In general, anti-populist features, as defined in the
coding rules, are scarce in most texts. The different nature of the text may explain
also the disparity between long and short texts (Figure 2). Not only the frequency but
also the tone diverges, in general, Catalan texts adopt a more passionate tone or
Figure 2: Populist references per 1,000 words and dates of publication
While there is an almost complete absence of populist references to a charismatic
leader in the political discourses of these pro-independence movements, moral
claims and antagonistic depictions of the polity are frequent (Figures 3 and 4). More
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populist than anti-populist features were identified, except in the case of depiction of
the polity in SNP manifestos and articles.
Figure 3: Manifestos: populist references per 1,000 words (all texts included)
Figure 4: Short texts: populist references per 1,000 words (all texts included)
Antagonistic depiction of the polity
Catalan texts examined display a much more antagonistic depiction of the polity than
the Scottish ones. Not only there are more populist features, but also these references
use a more confrontational style, often combined with a morally loaded victimisation
discourse (see next subsection). Catalan nationalist manifestos, portray Spain, ‘the
other’, as a ‘hostile’ and ‘disloyal’ state which historically blocks and hinders the
freedom and progress of Catalonia, the ‘us’ (JPS 2015: 10, 16). In the manifestos and
short texts written after the 1 October 2017 ‘referendum’,
the tone became
The 1 October 2017 was not formally referendums, as they were not organised according to Spanish laws or
respected usual democratic procedures.
0.0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2
Populist Depiction of Polity
Populist Morality
Populist Construction of Society
Populist Sovereignty
Populist Leadership
Anti-populist Depiction of Polity
Anti-populist Morality
Anti-populist Construction of Society
Anti-populist Sovereignty
Anti-populist Leadership
Catalan Manifestos SNP Manifestos
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Populist Depiction of Polity
Populist Morality
Populist Construction of Society
Populist Sovereignty
Populist Leadership
Anti-populist Depiction of Polity
Anti-populist Morality
Anti-populist Construction of Society
Anti-populist Sovereignty
Anti-populist Leadership
Catalan Articles SNP Speeches
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particularly direct and belligerent. There are abundant references to institutional,
judicial and police repression from the Spanish State (ERC 2017: 4-5). Terms such as
‘attack’, ‘offensive’, ‘aggression’, ‘repression’, ‘repressive operation’, ‘intimidation’
and ‘threat’ are used referring to the Spanish State or its government. There are, for
example, 17 references to ‘state repression’ in ERC 2017 political manifesto. The
Spanish government is also accused of orchestrating a campaign against the Catalan
economy and institutions and there are calls for international mediation to resolve
the conflict (ERC 2017: 5, 9).
Catalan leaders also adopt a particularly strong adversarial discourse in 2017. For
instance, Catalan Vice-President, Oriol Junqueras writes: ‘Spain’s government has
entered Catalonia… to crush any dissidence in the face of this attack we must
recompose our forces’ (NYTimes, 01/11/17), ‘we are facing violence and repression
and are basically under siege (Politico, 03/12/17). He accuses the Spanish
government of wanting to ‘destroy Catalan schools, promote ghettos, control means
of communication and shatter public health’ (, 09/11/17). Catalan
President Puigdemont suggests that Spain is military occupying a ‘rebel territory’
(Guardian, 06/11/17) and engaging in a ‘dirty war’ (Puigdemont and Junqueras, El
País, 22/03/17).
The claims for substituting Spanish institutions and creating a new independent
state are constant. There are severe accusations against Spanish legal system and,
specially, against the Spanish Constitutional Court. However, this pro-independence
movement cannot be considered openly anti-establishment as it strongly endorses
most current Catalan institutions, which they control and are meant to take over
state competences in case of secession. There are calls to weave alliances with all
social and economic actors to build a new state (Junqueras, NYTimes 01/11/17).
Most anti-populist references at the level of depiction of the polity refer to the EU.
The Catalan manifestos in 2015 expressed repeatedly the need to be accepted in the
EU in an eventual secession and the will to continue applying EU laws in Catalonia
(JPS 2015). However, the anti-populist features in this dimension sharply declined in
In the Scottish texts analysed there are some statements reflecting an antagonistic
depiction of the people and a will to create a separate state too. For instance, former
SNP leader Alex Salmond criticises the ‘Westminster Elite’ (New Statesman,
05/03/14) and ‘Westminster establishment’ (19/09/2014). However, SNP uses in
general a less bellicose language and the antagonistic references are mostly directed
against the Conservative party and its government, calling for an ‘anti-Tory majority’
(SNP 2015: 3, 11, 24).
Scottish texts display many anti-populist features. For instance, they express
repeatedly a will to collaborate with other political parties
and the UK Government
in discussions on specific policies. As in the Catalan case, Scottish nationalists show
endorsement of EU institutions and policies and of the business community, as well
as praise to their regional institutions. Although there are several criticisms to UK
Although sometimes it is a collaboration ‘against’ the Conservatives or to ‘keep Tories out’ (SNP 2015:3,22)
thus some statements could be considered both populist and anti-populists.
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institutions, such as the House of Lords (SNP 2017:41) and the Treasury (SNP 2016:
7), in general the SNP does not reject the British political, legal and economic system
in the analysed text. Overall, in this first dimension, there are more anti-populist
than populist features in SNP manifestos and leaders’ speeches and the polity is
portrayed in a far less Manichean fashion than in the Catalan texts analysed.
Figure 5: Antagonistic Depiction of Polity: Populist features per 1,000 words
Moral interpretation of political actors
The moral depiction of political actors is common to most Catalan and Scottish texts
analysed. Victimisation and attribution of blame are discursive features used
regularly in both cases. There is a somewhat explicit moral hierarchy, central
governments, and sometimes other political opponents, are considered immoral and
ill-intentioned, while nationalists are described as virtuous. However, the
accusations against the legitimacy and motivations of Spanish political actors are
more severe, wider in scope and frequent than those against the British ones (Figure
Spain is blamed for ‘disloyal’ behaviour with Catalonia and for limiting Catalans’
democratic rights. According to nationalist texts, the Spanish Government and the
Constitutional Court wanted to ‘humiliate’ Catalonia by amending and eliminating
some articles from its new statute as well as overriding or suspending laws approved
in the Catalan parliament (JPS 2015: 27). Nationalist leaders refer to a ‘lack of
reciprocity’ arguing that Catalonia has loved and helped Spain giving a lot and
received little or nothing in return, just contempt, offenses and provocations (Mas et
al., El País 06/11/15). There are constant references to an alleged ‘fiscal deficit’ which
hinders Catalan economic progress. Some of the manifestos claim that Catalan
workers subsidise the pensioners from the rest of the country (JPS 2015: 19-22, ERC
2017: 13). Junqueras argues that each Catalan family gives away 12,000 euros each
year to the Spanish State, in taxes, that will not be spent in Catalonia. He claims that
the Spanish Government is underinvesting as it does not consider the interests of
Catalonia (Junqueras 2015).
0.00 0.50 1.00 1.50 2.00 2.50 3.00 3.50 4.00 4.50
Catalan Manifestos
Catalan Articles
SNP Manifestos
SNP Speeches
Ideological Instrumental
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In the build-up and aftermath of the 1 October 2017 ‘referendum’, the tone became
more emphatic. The Spanish government is accused of illicit behaviour, suspending
liberties and democracy, as well as seeking to generate a situation of public insecurity
(ERC 2017: 4,10, 12). Former Catalan president Artur Mas speaks of ‘repressive
instinct of the Spanish State’ (El Periódico, 30/09/17). Puigdemont claims that
European values, civil rights, freedom of speech, freedom of information and
freedom of assembly are being violated by Spain’s central government’(Guardian,
21/09/17) and that the Spanish state was ‘[a]cting in an arbitrary, undemocratic, and
unlawful manner when it dissolved the Catalan Parliament (Guardian, 06/11/17).
Junqueras argues that the central government ‘has set out to take over the people’s
institutions and control them despotically.(NYTimes, 01/11/17). Politicians charged
for misappropriation of public funding to organise an illegal referendum are
presented as victims whose ‘crime was to give voice to citizens’ (Puigdemont and
Junqueras, El País, 22/03/2017). Spanish government is also accused of
purposefully harming Catalan companies (ERC 2017: 4) and of leaving the most
vulnerable unprotected.
The parties opposing the nationalist bloc are accused of promoting re-centralisation
and democratic involution, as well as of hindering reforms and perpetuating
inequalities (ERC 2017: 13). Catalan nationalists suggest that whoever opposes a self-
determination referendum is not a democrat. Meanwhile, there is no sign of any
criticism to the Catalan government. This is not surprising given that the nationalist
parties analysed were ruling this Autonomous Community in coalition. Pro-
independence parties portray themselves as the defenders of the democratic rights
and Catalan institutions which are threatened by the Spanish state.
Morality is the dimension with more populist references recorded in the Scottish
case. There are numerous moral statements questioning the priorities and fairness of
the government. SNP tends to portray Scotland and British working classes as
victims of Westminster. Westminster has presided over a relentless undermining of
our social security system’, ‘…it will be the ordinary people across the UK who will
pay the price’ (SNP 2015: 31, 54), ‘[t]he UK government’s actions on welfare have
attacked some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society (SNP 2016:
49). Salmond repeatedly quoted Scotland’s Church to describe the UK Government
policy as undemocratic, unjust, socially divisive and destructive of community and
family life (NewStatesman, 05/03/14). There are references to the UK
government’s great rural robbery’ and to the ‘Tory decision to rob Scottish farmers of
£190 million of EU money’ (SNP 2017: 10, 12, 32, 39).
However, in general the style and tone is slightly less aggressive than in the Catalan
communications and most moral references are targeted against the Conservatives,
usually referred to as ‘Tories’, and in particular against their austerity policy. SNP
and depicts itself as ‘protecting Scotland from Tory cuts’ (SNP 2016: 53, SNP 2017:
9), which are considered ‘ideological’ and ‘punitive’ (SNP 2017: 10). For instance,
‘[t]he Tory obsession with austerity is a political choice, not a necessity (SNP 2017,
10) and there are references to ‘…needless pain of Tory cuts’ (SNP 2015: 7, 31).
Scottish Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon states in a speech (10/10/17) that ‘Tory
austerity’ is ‘[h]eartless, shameful, self-defeating.
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Figure 6: Populist morality features per 1,000 words
Idealised construction of society
There are clear discrepancies in how both nationalist movements represent their
society. The frequency of populist references in Catalan communications is much
higher. Catalonia is represented not only as a nation but also as a different country
among the most advanced economies in the world. For instance, the word ‘country’
(‘país’) appears 203 times in 2015 Junts Pel Manifesto. Catalonia is often equated
and compared to other EU member states (JPS2015: 89, JXC 2017: 62) but rarely to
other regions within Spain. Similarly, there are references to collaboration with other
countries but not with other parts of Spain (JXC 2017: 67), except in the case of
linguistic policy, for which cooperation with the various territories which share
Catalan language is demanded (JXC 2017: 73, 75).
Nationalist marches, elections and referendums are referred to as historical
milestones for Catalonia (JXC 2017: 2) and its cultural heritage is considered unique
and singular (JPS 2015: 98). There are calls to use schools and media to bring people
together as a country (ERC 2017: 13). There are also mentions to the Catalan
Republic and some to the ahistorical Països Catalans (Junqueras, 11/09/15, ERC
2017: 58-59) as well as constant calls for ‘freedom’, suggesting that in Spain liberties
and rights are not respected. The romanticised construction of society is not only
based on a past ‘heartland’ but also on an idealised future independent Catalonia that
would become a global actor, as rich and advanced as Denmark and Sweden, with its
own digital currency (JXC 2017: 26-27) and much improved public services (JPS
2015: 14-19).
Society is described as unitary, el poble de Catalunya’, even when referring to
cultural and political features, such as language or the ‘collective will to be an
independent country. The nationalist bloc portrays itself as the embodiment of
Catalonia and their activities described as representing the entire ‘country’ (e.g.
mobilització de país’, diàleg de país). The agreements reached among the
nationalist forces are often described as national consensus (‘grans consensos de
país’)(ERC2017: 12). There seem to be an effort to show both the unity of action
among Catalans and the irreversibility of the independence process; ‘Catalonia has
0.00 1.00 2.00 3.00 4.00 5.00 6.00 7.00 8.00 9.00 10.00
Catalan Manifestos
Catalan Articles
SNP Manifestos
SNP Speeches
Ideological Instrumental
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said that is enough, “that is all, folks”’ (Mas, El Periódico, 30/09/17), We Catalans
are idealists, but history has also made us realists, and we will not turn back now.
(Puigdemont 01/03/16). ‘the courage this country has shown is so enlightening and
so strong that sooner or later it will result in the consolidation of the full, truly just
and democratic Republic of Catalonia.’ (Junqueras, NYTimes, 01/11/17)
Common socio-cultural traits or institutions with the rest of Spain are not mentioned
and differences emphasised.. Catalan is depicted as the tool for cohesion and
integration; the language of the country (‘llengua del país’) (JPS 2015: 116), despite
being the mother language of less than half of Catalans. When referring to security
services in Catalonia only ‘Mossos d’Esquadra’ Regional Police is cited, Spanish
National Police and Civil Guard which also operate in Catalonia are omitted (JPS
2015: 114-115). Economic relations with the rest of Spain are underplayed and it is
suggested than an independent Catalonia could favour its ‘own territory’ and ‘its own
people’ (‘la seva gent’)(JPS 2015: 22).
Conversely the references to diversity and the inclusive character of Catalonia, found
in the analysis could be considered anti-populist features. It is claimed that citizens
will not be discriminated for linguistic or religious reasons and that everyone should
have access to public services. Catalonia is depicted as cohesive but inclusive. Despite
the constant efforts to differentiate Catalonia from the rest of Spain, in some articles
there is an acknowledgement to the common history with Spain and to the emotional
and cultural links with Spaniards, which are, nonetheless, described as neighbours
and not as part of the same society.
In SNP texts, features of populist construction of society are the least frequent. While
in Catalan communications the term ‘country’ is the usual choice to describe
Catalonia, Scottish texts use mostly ‘nation’. Scotland’s strengths are praised; our
nation’s great natural wealth and many competitive and comparative advantages’
(SNP 2015:19), Scotland is a world leader on tackling climate change emissions
(SNP 2016:59), ‘we had to act fast to protect Scotland’s reputation as a world class
place to do business(SNP 2017: 14). An independent Scotland is also idealised. For
instance, Salmond (NewStatesman, 05/03/14) argues that an independent Scotland
‘would be among the wealthiest nations in the OECD’ and ‘the beacon of progressive
The SNP portray itself as representing ‘Scotland’s voice’; ‘A vote for the SNP ...It is a
vote to make Scotland's voice heard (SNP 2015: 23; SNP 2017: 6, 8), ‘[a] vote for the
SNP will strengthen Scotland’s hand against further Tory cuts and ensure that
progressive polices(SNP 2017: 3). In the Scottish case there is less emphasis on the
differences with ‘the other’ and ‘in-group homogeneity’ than in Catalan pro-
independence texts.
There are also some anti-populist references (Figures 3, 4) stressing commonalities
with other parts of the UK and the defending the importance of immigration our
society has been strengthened, over generations, by new Scots arriving from across
the globe(SNP 2015: 34) and some historical social and economic ties with the rest
of the UK (Salmond, NewStatesman, 05/03/2014). While in Catalan articles and
manifestos references to ‘the rest of Spain’ are avoided as they would imply
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recognition of belonging to the same country, the SNP declares its intention to
provide ‘a beacon of hope to people across the UK’ (Sturgeon 15/10/15).
Figure 7: Populist construction of society features per 1,000 words
Absence of limits to popular sovereignty
Populist sovereignty features are also much more frequent in Catalan than in
Scottish nationalist communications. Catalan communications have abundant
implicit and explicit populist references to the ‘will of the majority’ (JPS 2015:10),
full sovereignty (‘sobirania plena’), and self-determination which is euphemistically
called ‘right to decide’ (‘dret a decidir’). According to several passages in the texts
analysed, a simple majority in the Catalan parliament provides a ‘democratic
mandate’ or ‘popular mandate’ sufficient to overrule Spanish Constitution and
previous Catalan legal arrangements such as its statute of autonomy (JPS 2015: 30-
34, ERC 2017: 3-7). There are references to popular ‘clamour’, or a wide social and
political majority’ favourable to independence which legitimises a ‘national transition
process’ towards an independent state: Can the will of the people prevail or will force
overrule it?(Junqueras, Politico, 03/12/17).
There are also calls for a government
of national unity (‘Govern de concentració’) which nonetheless excludes most non-
nationalist groups.
This majoritarian logic resonates with the continuous references to referendums as
tools for expression of popular will with legally binding results.
There is also great
emphasis on mass social mobilisations, as legitimising tools for pro-independence
claims. For instance, ‘… millions more Catalan citizens have taken peacefully the
streets in defence of self-rule and the right to decide on their political future’
(Puigdemont, Guardian, 21/09/17). The role of elections as a channel of people’s will
is minimised. Usually ‘voting’ refers to a secession referendum. For example,
Puigdemont writes ‘[a]ll we want is to carry out the greatest expression of a free
According to the Centre d’Estudis d’Opinió support for independence during the period analysed never
reached 50%. Similarly, pro-independence parties never reached 50% of the total vote.
The JXC 2017 manifesto has considerably less references to the utilisation of referendums, which can be
explained by the fact that this document assumes that independence has been already achieved.
0.00 0.50 1.00 1.50 2.00 2.50 3.00
Catalan Manifestos
Catalan Articles
SNP Manifestos
SNP Speeches
Ideological Instrumental
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democracy, and vote on Catalonia’s future.’ (Guardian, 21/09/17).
consultations processes, plebiscitary elections, and decision-making committees with
civil society representatives, are also suggested frequently.
The strong majoritarian logic that permeates all analysed texts is, nevertheless,
applied selectively. It is argued that a majority of Catalans would have the capacity to
overturn any decision that a majority of Spaniards may have decided. Thus, this
majoritarian logic only applies within Catalonia, not when the unit of discussion is
the entire Spain, then the right of minorities came into play in the discourse.
In terms of anti-populist claims, classic representation mechanisms are recognised
and there are pleas for transversal agreements across Catalan society. There are also
calls to establish dialogue with the central government. However, this is only a
bilateral dialogue without representatives of other regions, and usually these
references are followed by accusations against the Spanish government for rejecting
In the Scottish case there are also examples of idealisation of popular sovereignty
and independence referendums. Salmond claims that it was on the 2014 referendum
that all of the people of Scotlandwere for the first time ever truly democratically
sovereign(NewStatesman, 05/03/2014). As in Catalan texts, it is argued that the
decisions about the future of Scotland should be made by ‘the people who live there’
(SNP 2015: 47). Scots should ‘choose their own future’ (SNP 2016: 54) and that that
shaping their own future ‘is a natural desire’ (SNP 2016: 53). They also claim that the
SNP makes sure that ‘Scotland’s future is always in Scotland’s hands’ (SNP 2017: 3).
Despite having lost the independence referendum in September 2014, the SNP
continued to express its will to secede from the UK in all manifestos. Sturgeon
stressed this determination in several occasions: I believe with all my heart that
Scotland should be an independent country(15/10/15), we can, we must, and we
will always make the case for independence(10/10/17). Moreover, it is argued that
the Scottish Parliament should have the right to call a new independence referendum
if a majority wish it (SNP 2016: 25, SNP 2017: 3). Scottish nationalists, as their
Catalan counterparts, believe that a simple majority vote is a sufficient condition to
trigger independence. The Brexit referendum and negotiation process are used to
legitimise a new independence referendum (Sturgeon 13/03/17). Scottish
nationalists claim that no constituent part of the UK can be taken out of the EU
against its will’ (SNP 2015: 9) and that attempts to block another referendum ‘would
be democratically unsustainable’ (SNP 2017: 29). However, as in the case of
Catalonia this majoritarian logic does not seem to be applied consistently in all
contexts. For instance, conversely to their discourse on the Brexit referendum, there
are no references to the possibility of parts of Scotland remaining in an eventual
secession from the UK.
Overall, the intensity of sovereignty-based populist features increases over time. For
instance, there are 3 references in 2015 SNP Manifesto, 8 in that of 2016 and 10 in
the 2017 one. Contrasting with the Catalan case, in the SNP texts scrutinised there
Since 2010, Catalans have voted in 4 Catalan regional elections, 4 Spanish general elections and 3 local
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are no populist references to mass mobilisations or tools of direct democracy other
than the referendum of independence. Theirs seems to be a more
conventional/representative approach to democracy.
Figure 8: Populist sovereignty features per 1,000 words
Other comparisons and findings
References to a populist reliance on a charismatic leader were extremely rare.
Partially, this may be due to the nature of texts. The short texts were written by
nationalist leaders themselves and the political manifestos did not make claims
emphasising a specific leader either. The relatively new leadership in both cases may
be another explaining factor.
Scottish manifestos are more specific in terms of policy proposals and achievements
and present more concrete quantitative evidence and targets (SNP 2015: 8-12; SNP
2016: 8-9). Scottish manifestos emphasise much more socio-economic achievements,
notably those in health, education, social benefits, poverty reduction and the
environment (SNP 2016: 11,
). Catalan manifestos focus on the general guiding
principles, new institutions and framework legislation and provide less specific
policy pledges. Moreover, some of the Catalan policy proposals assume a level of
competences which have not been transferred from the central government yet, and
therefore it is unlikely they could be implemented.
It is worth noting an evolution in how Spain is mentioned in the communications
analysed, which seems to mirror changes in the discourse after the unilateral and
The SNP manifestos were written after the replacement of the historical leader, Alex Salmond by Nicola
Sturgeon. The JPS coalition was designed as a non-personalist movement with several leaders, Artur Mas, Raül
Romeva, Carme Forcadell, Muriel Casals and Oriol Junqueras. ERC is a traditional nationalist party founded in
1931 which has had so far 11 leaders and not a strong personalist tradition. JXC was composed mainly by
former members of Convergència Democrática de Catalunya (CDC), a party founded and led for over 2 decades
by Jordi Pujol and later by Artur Mas. Carles Puigdemont, the head of JXC had led this conservative wing of the
pro-independence movement only since January 2016.
The document Next Steps to a Better Scotland (SNP 2016b) is largely devoted to explaining social and
inclusion policies
0.00 0.50 1.00 1.50 2.00 2.50 3.00 3.50 4.00
Catalan Manifestos
Catalan Articles
SNP Manifestos
SNP Speeches
Ideological Instrumental
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non-legally binding proclamation Catalan Republic in October 2017. The Junts Per
Catalunya manifesto makes very few references to Spain-wide institutions but
includes many references to current and future Catalan ones and to international
organisations. For instance, it speaks of NATO, EU and European Defence Agency in
its security and defence section without making any reference to Spain (JXC 2017:
19-20). There are references to the European and Mediterranean contexts but not to
the Spanish context. It is significant that while in the 2015 Junts Pel Sí manifesto the
word Spain (‘Espanya’) was mentioned 29 times, in 2017, it was mentioned only 4
times in the ERC manifesto and none in the Junts Per Catalunya manifesto. In
comparison, the term ‘UK’ appears 124 times in SNP 2015 manifesto and 263 in that
of 2017. While SNP manifestos discuss many policy proposals for the entire UK,
Catalan nationalist manifestos proposals are almost always exclusively circumscribed
to Catalonia. On the other hand, populist antagonistic depiction of the polity and the
morally loaded victimisation discourse lose intensity in the JXC manifesto given than
the other, has been to a large extent excluded from the text.
Concluding remarks
Populism represent a complex challenge to representative pluralistic democracy and
as such deserves special scholarly attention. The term populism has been often
stretched and conflated with the concept of nationalism. Deconstructing populism
into its basic components is a first step towards conceptual clarity and a pre-requisite
to design policy strategies to deal with it. Although minimal conceptualisations of
populism focusing on one or a couple of features have proved very useful, they
sometimes fail to capture part of the diversity in terms of practices, ideas and
discourses of populist movements. Thus, this paper has tried to map a wider variety
of features that could be later used for the purpose of re-conceptualisation and
classification of this phenomenon.
The first part of the article has outlined the state of the populist literature and
suggested that to overcome the ontological disputes which have hindered cumulative
progress in this field, it may be worth shifting the focus to identifying and analysing
specific attributes or properties (Gerring 1999: 357-358) common to populist
movements and leading conceptualisations of populism (Bonikowski & Gidron
2016:10). Then it has theoretically developed a comparative framework to measure
the intensity of populist features in texts and communications based on five
dimensions: depiction of the polity, morality, construction of society, sovereignty,
and leadership. It has also presented some of the interconnections between populist
features across these dimensions which contribute to create an inner logic (Müller
2016:10). The approach adopted in this paper means moving away from a
dichotomous consideration of movements as populists or not, onto a type of research
which focuses on the attributes of political discourses and populist frames,
acknowledging the existence of degrees in populism.
The deconstruction into dimensions also helps identify some of the differences
between nationalism and populism. For instance, while for nationalism antagonism
is always based on a horizontal or territorial conception of the in-out group divide,
populism usually adopt a vertical one. Nationalists may not rely on moral arguments
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to delegitimise the other as much as populists do. Populists do not necessarily
ground their conception of heartland on national identity as nationalists do.
Moreover, nationalists often do not share populists maximalist conception of
sovereignty or their preference for direct democracy tools.
The second part of the paper has compared the salience of the abovementioned
populist attributes in the political communications of Catalan and Scottish pro-
independence nationalist parties and leaders. The methodology introduced in the
first part of the paper has been tested through a systematic content analysis of 25
documents (including six political manifestos) of the Catalan and Scottish most
prominent nationalist parties between 2014 and 2017. The study shows striking
divergences in the frequency and intensity of populist features across the two
movements. The number of populist references identified in Catalan documents
dwarves those in Scottish ones, 269% in political manifestos and 534% in short texts.
In all dimensions and in both types of communications, Catalan nationalists display
a higher density of populist features and a significantly more passionate and
confrontational style. The SNP emphasises more the social agenda in its manifestos
and speeches while identity related issues are less prominent than in Catalan leaders
The texts analysed display a sort of targeted anti-elitism, a selective negative
depiction of ‘an elite’ not of ‘the elite’. Criticisms are directed to the Madrid and
Westminster elites but not to the regional ones. Both independence movement
emphasise constantly moral superiority vis-à-vis other political actors. Although this
is the most relevant populist feature of SNP, the intensity and frequency of moralistic
claims are still considerably lower than in Catalan nationalist discourse. SNP moral
references and critiques are almost exclusively directed to the Conservative Party,
the Tories’ or ‘the Tory government’, while Catalan nationalists, in addition to
criticise the conservative central government, often express negative moral
judgments about ‘Spain’ or the ‘Spanish State’ as a whole.
Similarly, popular sovereignty and majoritarianism are attributes of the discourses of
these movements. But these principles are applied selectively, only within Catalonia
or Scotland. A simple majority of Catalans or Scots may overrule constitutional
arrangements and initiate an independence process, but decisions made by the
majority of Spanish or British citizens do not need to be similarly accepted. Catalan
and Scottish nationalists consider themselves as a separate demos. Their depictions
of society, especially in the Catalan case, try to justify and legitimise the extrication of
the Catalan demos from the Spanish one by emphasising differences and omitting
similarities with the rest of Spain. Since it is claimed that they are a different ‘people’
and a distinct demos, sovereignty and self-determination are not to be acquired as
the result of a negotiated process of political independence but already presumed
from the beginning.
The weak reliance on a personalistic leader unveiled in the analysis is not completely
uncommon in populist movements. Charismatic leaders and direct communications
between them and ‘the people’ can be considered features facilitating rather than
defining populism (Mudde 2004: 545). In the case of Catalonia, it may be worth
analysing more recent texts since the figure of Carles Puigdemont has acquired
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centrality in the discourses of part of the pro-independence movement after the 2017
It is beyond the scope of this paper to provide an overall assessment of the level of
populism of these movements. The weighting of the different attributes elicited from
populism theory would be certainly controversial and the study has focused on
written communications, without analysing actions and other ideological and
performative traits. Non-text materials, including visual and performative elements,
could complement the findings. Likewise the analysis of the interpretative context
may be necessary to discern whether the discursive features identified here are
expressions of a belief or immanent logic or simply rhetoric devices. Further research
would be needed to capture the ‘demand side’ of populism and assess to what extent
Catalan and Scottish nationalist voters display similar populist features in their
attitudes and beliefs.
Similarly, the comparison with other populist movements may shed light on the
relative degree of populism of the two secession movements studied here. To classify
any, or both, of these parties as populist based on this methodology an agreed
threshold would be necessary. The application of this framework to parties such as
UKIP, Podemos and Lega which are widely considered as populists would help
establish a benchmark and contribute to generate evidence to qualify or support
existing definitions of populism. It would allow estimate and compare the relative
salience of each of the five dimensions and identify specific themes within each of
Nevertheless, this comparative deconstruction of political discourses demonstrates
that the Catalan and Scottish independence movements, despite sharing a similar
nationalist ideology, the goal of secession, and considering each other as allies and
sources of mutual inspiration, diverge widely when analysed through the lenses of
populism. Comparatively speaking the political communications of Catalan
nationalists are much more populist than those of SNP. This article suggests that
nationalism does not have to be always associated with populism, or at least not in a
similar degree (De Cleen et al. 2018: 5, Bernhard & Kriesi 2019: 16-18).
Finally, this article has illustrated that the analysis of the presence and centrality of
populist attributes in the communications of political movements help generate
datasets that may be of used in a variety of quantitative and qualitative populism
studies and thus contribute to build bridges across the existing ontological divide.
Datasets generated following this approach can be also used as supporting evidence
in the conceptual debates on populism, for instance to create typologies or as a
means to narrow down or expand existing definitions.
Jose Javier Olivas Osuna, PhD
Principal Investigator Interdisciplinary Comparative Project on Populism and Secessionism (ICPPS)
Department of Political Science and Administration, UNED
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Associate to the Conflict and Civil Society Research Unit, LSE
Editor of Euro Crisis in the Press
Tel: +44920194424
Twitter: @josejolivas
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Detail of manifestos examined
electoral Junts pel
53,758 words
Total Populist
Per 1,000 words
Eleccions al
Parlament 2017
electoral la
sempre guanya
27,962 words
Total Populist
Per 1,000 words
Eleccions al
Parlament de
Catalunya 21 de
desembre de 2017:
26,126 words
Total Populist
Per 1,000 words
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35 40 45
Populist Depiction of Polity
Populist Morality
Populist Construction of Society
Populist Sovereignty
Populist Leadership
Anti-populist Depiction of Polity
Anti-populist Morality
Anti-populist Construction of Society
Anti-populist Sovereignty
Anti-populist Leadership
Instrumental Ideological
0 5 10 15 20 25 30 35
Populist Depiction of Polity
Populist Morality
Populist Construction of Society
Populist Sovereignty
Populist Leadership
Anti-populist Depiction of Polity
Anti-populist Morality
Anti-populist Construction of Society
Anti-populist Sovereignty
Anti-populist Leadership
Instrumental Ideological
0 5 10 15 20 25
Populist Depiction of Polity
Populist Morality
Populist Construction of Society
Populist Sovereignty
Populist Leadership
Anti-populist Depiction of Polity
Anti-populist Morality
Anti-populist Construction of Society
Anti-populist Sovereignty
Anti-populist Leadership
Instrumental Ideological
By J J Olivas Osuna Work in progress, please do not share or distribute without author’s permission
Stronger for
19,219 words
Total Populist
Per 1,000 words
29,425 words
Total Populist
Per 1,000 words
Stronger for
20,755 words
Total Populist
Per 1,000 words
Populist Depiction of Polity
Populist Morality
Populist Construction of Society
Populist Sovereignty
Populist Leadership
Anti-populist Depiction of Polity
Anti-populist Morality
Anti-populist Construction of Society
Anti-populist Sovereignty
Anti-populist Leadership
Instrumental Ideological
Populist Depiction of Polity
Populist Morality
Populist Construction of Society
Populist Sovereignty
Populist Leadership
Anti-populist Depiction of Polity
Anti-populist Morality
Anti-populist Construction of Society
Anti-populist Sovereignty
Anti-populist Leadership
Instrumental Ideological
0246810 12 14 16 18
Populist Depiction of Polity
Populist Morality
Populist Construction of Society
Populist Sovereignty
Populist Leadership
Anti-populist Depiction of Polity
Anti-populist Morality
Anti-populist Construction of Society
Anti-populist Sovereignty
Anti-populist Leadership
Instrumental Ideological
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The article comparatively examines the levels of populism exhibited by parties in Western Europe. It relies on a quantitative content analysis of press releases collected in the context of 11 national elections between 2012 and 2015. In line with the first hypothesis, the results show that parties from both the radical right and the radical left make use of populist appeals more frequently than mainstream parties. With regard to populism on cultural issues, the article establishes that the radical right outclasses the remaining parties, thereby supporting the second hypothesis. On economic issues, both types of radical parties are shown to be particularly populist. This pattern counters the third hypothesis, which suggests that economic populism is most prevalent among the radical left. Finally, there is no evidence for the fourth hypothesis, given that parties from the south do not resort to more populism on economic issues than those from the north.
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This article formulates precise questions and ‘rules of engagement’ designed to advance our understanding of the role populism can and should play in the present political conjuncture, with potentially significant implications for critical management and organization studies and beyond. Drawing on the work of Ernesto Laclau and others working within the post-Marxist discourse-theory tradition, we defend a concept of populism understood as a form of reason that centres around a claim to represent ‘the people’, discursively constructed as an underdog in opposition to an illegitimate ‘elite’. A formal discursive approach to populism brings with it important advantages. For example, it establishes that a populist logic can be invoked to further very different political goals, from radical left to right, or from progressive to regressive. It sharpens too our grasp of important issues that are otherwise conflated and obfuscated. For instance, it helps us separate out the nativist and populist dimensions in the discourses of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Trump or the Front National (FN). Our approach to populism, however, also points to the need to engage with the rhetoric about populism, a largely ignored area of critical research. In approaching populism as a signifier, not only as a concept, we stress the added need to focus on the uses of the term ‘populism’ itself: how it is invoked, by whom and to what purpose and effect. This, we argue, requires that we pay more systematic attention to anti-populism and ‘populist hype’, and reflect upon academia’s own relation to populism and anti-populism.
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The study of the relationship between populism and religion has for a long time remained a neglected area of social-scientific research. This chapter provides a comprehensive overview of religious populism. A subtype of populism, religious populism, is analyzed in its two dimensions: as an openly religious manifestation, in the form of the politicization of religion; and as a subtler religious manifestation, tied to the sacralization of politics in modern-day societies. The chapter ends with a discussion on the nexus between politics and religion and on the need to focus on the repeated intersections between the two fields.
Few social science categories have been more heatedly contested in recent years than ‘populism’. One focus of debate concerns the relation between populism and nationalism. Criticising the tendency to conflate populism and nationalism, De Cleen and Stavrakakis argue for a sharp conceptual distinction between the two. They situate populist discourse on a vertical, and nationalist discourse on a horizontal axis. I argue that this strict conceptual separation cannot capture the productive ambiguity of populist appeals to ‘the people’, evoking at once plebs, sovereign demos and bounded community. The frame of reference for populist discourse is most fruitfully understood as a two‐dimensional space, at once a space of inequality and a space of difference. Vertical opposition to those on top (and often those on the bottom) and horizontal opposition to those outside are tightly interwoven, generally in such a way that economic, political and cultural elites are represented as being ‘outside’ as well as ‘on top’. The ambiguity and two‐dimensionality of appeals to ‘the people’ do not result from the conflation of populism and nationalism; they are a constitutive feature of populism itself, a practical resource that can be exploited in constructing political identities and defining lines of political opposition and conflict.
Scholarly and journalistic accounts of the recent successes of radical-right politics in Europe and the United States, including the Brexit referendum and the Trump campaign, tend to conflate three phenomena: populism, ethno-nationalism and authoritarianism. While all three are important elements of the radical right, they are neither coterminous nor limited to the right. The resulting lack of analytical clarity has hindered accounts of the causes and consequences of ethno-nationalist populism. To address this problem, I bring together existing research on nationalism, populism and authoritarianism in contemporary democracies to precisely define these concepts and examine temporal patterns in their supply and demand, that is, politicians' discursive strategies and the corresponding public attitudes. Based on the available evidence, I conclude that both the supply and demand sides of radical politics have been relatively stable over time, which suggests that in order to understand public support for radical politics, scholars should instead focus on the increased resonance between pre-existing attitudes and discursive frames. Drawing on recent research in cultural sociology, I argue that resonance is not only a function of the congruence between a frame and the beliefs of its audience, but also of shifting context. In the case of radical-right politics, a variety of social changes have engendered a sense of collective status threat among national ethnocultural majorities. Political and media discourse has channelled such threats into resentments toward elites, immigrants, and ethnic, racial and religious minorities, thereby activating previously latent attitudes and lending legitimacy to radical political campaigns that promise to return power and status to their aggrieved supporters. Not only does this form of politics threaten democratic institutions and inter-group relations, but it also has the potential to alter the contours of mainstream public discourse, thereby creating the conditions of possibility for future successes of populist, nationalist, and authoritarian politics.
'Imagined Communities' examines the creation & function of the 'imagined communities' of nationality & the way these communities were in part created by the growth of the nation-state, the interaction between capitalism & printing & the birth of vernacular languages in early modern Europe.
This book explores the question of why and under which conditions right-wing populist parties receive electoral support. The author argues that neither economic variables, nor national culture or history are what account for their successes. Instead, he illustrates that the electoral success of populist parties in Western Europe, such as the French Front National or the Alternative for Germany, is best understood as the unintended consequence of misleading political messaging on the part of established political actors. A two-level theory explains why moderate politicians have changed their approaches to political messaging, potentially benefiting the nationalist, anti-elitist and anti-immigration rhetoric of their populist contenders. Lastly, the book’s theoretical assumptions are empirically validated by case studies on the immigration societies of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden. "Timo Lochocki’s fascinating book systematically shows that the fortunes of nationalist parties depend, at least in part, on the positions adopted by their more mainstream competitors." Tim Bale, Queen Mary University of London, UK "This book provides valuable insights into populist radical-right politics in Western Europe. Timo Lochocki argues that a “crisis of conservatism” created the perfect context for the rise of nationalist parties." Cas Mudde, University of Georgia, GA, USA "Timo Lochocki’s book uses high-quality comparative research to tackle numerous misperceptions and mistaken assumptions about the rise and persistence of nationalist parties across Europe. It is a must-read for anybody following the debate on where Europe is today and where it might be tomorrow." Matthew Goodwin, University of Kent, UK