Inspired by a previous debate in Acta Politica between Rudy Andeweg and Arend Lijphart on the pros and cons of consensus democracy, this article explores whether support for populist parties is traceable to the institutional framework of West European democracies. ‘Populism’ is conceptualized in terms of its emphasis on the antagonism between the people and corrupt elites, and its opposition to intermediary structures between the rulers and the ruled. We consider right-wing as well as left-wing populism. Two institutional dimensions — the executives-parties dimension and the federal–unitary dimension — are drawn from Lijphart's work to analyze the association between patterns of democracy and populism. Throughout, consensual systems are hypothesized to display higher support for populist parties than majoritarian systems. We show that the executives-parties dimension, which measures the diffusion of power within political institutions, indeed makes a difference for populist support. Moreover, unlike many similar studies on anti-system parties, this article also explores Lijphart's federal–unitary dimension and consequently finds that federal states are more conducive to populism than unitary states.
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We thank Peter Mair, Huib Pellikaan, Elisabeth Ivarsflaten, Imke Harbers, Sarah de Lange, as well as the editors and reviewers of the journal for helpful comments on previous drafts. Armèn Hakhverdian gratefully acknowledges financial support from the Jenkins Memorial Fund.
For the data on the institutional variables, see Lijphart (1999, 312–314). The most recent figures (1971–1996) have been used. Note that consensual countries receive higher scores on the executives-parties dimension than majoritarian countries. The same applies to the federal–unitary dimension.
Some studies on the extreme right have argued for the use of Tobit models in the case of left-censored dependent variables, since OLS might lead to biased and inconsistent estimates (e.g., Jackman and Volpert, 1996; Golder 2003). Therefore, to check the robustness of our findings, we also calculated Tobit estimates and found very similar results in terms of sign, magnitude, and statistical significance.
In line with Lijphart (1999, 248), the cut-off point for the two dimensions is drawn at zero. Although his threshold differs from ours, the results from Tables 2 and 3 are still confirmed. Note that for his conceptual map Lijphart reversed the signs of all values on the two dimensions, so that higher scores in Figure 3 indicate higher degrees of majoritarian democracy (see Lijphart 1999, 247, notes 1 and 2).
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Hakhverdian, A., Koop, C. Consensus Democracy and Support for Populist Parties in Western Europe. Acta Polit 42, 401–420 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1057/palgrave.ap.5500202
- consensus democracy
- majoritarian democracy
- West European politics