Consensus Democracy and Support for Populist Parties in Western Europe

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3

Notes

  1. 1.

    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.

  2. 2.

    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.

  3. 3.

    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.

  4. 4.

    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).

References

  1. Abedi, A. (2002) ‘Challenges to established parties: the effects of party system features on the electoral fortunes of anti-political-establishment parties’, European Journal of Political Research 41 (4): 551–583.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  2. Andeweg, R. (2001) ‘Lijphart versus Lijphart: the cons of consensus democracy in homogeneous societies’, Acta Politica 36: 117–128.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Betz, H.-G. (1994) Radical Right-Wing Populism in Western Europe, Basingstoke: Macmillan.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Betz, H.-G. (2002) ‘Conditions Favoring the Success and Failure of Radical Right-wing Populist Parties in Contemporary Democracies’, in Y. Mény and Y. Surel (eds.) Democracies and the Populist Challenge, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 197–213.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Betz, H.-G. (2005) ‘Mobilizing Resentment in the Alps: The Swiss SVP, the Italian Lega Nord, and the Austrian FPÖ’, in D. Caramani and Y. Mény (eds.) Challenges to Consensual Politics: Democracy, Identity, and Populist Protest in the Alpine Region, Brussels: P.I.E.-Peter Lang, pp. 147–166.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Betz, H.-G. and Johnson, C. (2004) ‘Against the current — stemming the tide: the nostalgic ideology of the contemporary radical populist right’, Journal of Political Ideologies 9 (3): 311–327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Canovan, M. (1999) ‘Trust the people: populism and the two faces of democracy’, Political Studies 47 (1): 2–16.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Canovan, M. (2002) ‘Taking Politics to the People: Populism as the Ideology of Democracy’, in Y. Mény and Y. Surel (eds.) Democracies and the Populist Challenge, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 25–44.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Carter, E. (2002) ‘Proportional representation and the fortunes of right-wing extremist parties’, West European Politics 25 (3): 125–146.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Carter, E. (2005) The Extreme Right in Western Europe: Success or Failure?, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Coffé, H. (2005) ‘Individual factors explaining the success of Belgian extreme right parties’, Acta Politica 40 (1): 74–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Dahl, R. (1956) A Preface to Democratic Theory, Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Dahl, R. (1971) Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition, New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Dahl, R. (1991) Democracy and its Critics, New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Diamond, L. (1999) Developing Democracy: Towards Consolidation, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Golder, M. (2003) ‘Explaining variation in the success of extreme right parties in Western Europe’, Comparative Political Studies 36 (4): 432–466.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Goodin, R. (1996) ‘Institutionalizing the public interest: the defense of deadlock and beyond’, American Political Science Review 90 (2): 331–343.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Heinisch, R. (2003) ‘Success in opposition — failure in government: explaining the performance of right-wing populist parties in public office’, West European Politics 26 (3): 91–130.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Horowitz, D. (1985) Ethnic Groups in Conflict, Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Jackman, R. and Volpert, K. (1996) ‘Conditions favouring parties of the extreme right in Western Europe’, British Journal of Political Science 26 (4): 501–521.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Katz, R. and Mair, P. (1995) ‘Changing models of party organization and party democracy: the emergence of the cartel party’, Party Politics 1 (1): 5–28.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Kitschelt, H. (1988) ‘Left-libertarian parties: explaining innovation in competitive party systems’, World Politics 40 (2): 194–234.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Kitschelt, H. (2002) ‘Popular Dissatisfaction with Democracy: Populism and Party Systems’, in Y. Mény and Y. Surel (eds.) Democracies and the Populist Challenge, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 179–196.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Lijphart, A. (1999) Patterns of Democracy: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty- Six Countries, New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Lijphart, A. (2001) ‘The pros and cons — but mainly pros — of consensus democracy’, Acta Politica 36: 129–139.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Lipset, S. and Rokkan, S. (1967) ‘Cleavage Structures, Party Systems, and Voter Alignments: An Introduction’, in S. Lipset and S. Rokkan (eds.) Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspectives, New York: The Free Press, pp. 1–64.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Mair, P. (2001) ‘The Green Challenge and Political Competition: How Typical is the German Experience’, in S. Padgett and T. Poguntke (eds.) Continuity and Change in German Politics: Beyond the Politics of Centrality? A Festschrift for Gordon Smith, London: Cass, pp. 99–116.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Mair, P. (2002) ‘Populist Democracy vs Party Democracy’, in Y. Mény and Y. Surel (eds.) Democracies and the Populist Challenge, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 81–98.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Mair, P. and Weeks, L. (2005) ‘The Party System’, in J. Coakley and M. Gallagher (eds.) Politics in the Republic of Ireland, (4th edn), London: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  30. March, L. (2007) ‘From vanguard of the proletariat to vox populi: left populism as a “shadow” of contemporary socialism’, SAIS Review 27 (1): 63–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. March, L. and Mudde, C. (2005) ‘What's left of the radical left? The European Radical Left After 1989: Decline and Mutation’, Comparative European Politics 3 (1): 23–49.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Mazzoleni, O. (2005) ‘Multi-level Populism and Centre–Periphery Cleavage in Switzerland: The Case of the lega dei ticinesi’, in D. Caramani and Y. Mény (eds.) Challenges to Consensual Politics: Democracy, Identity, and Populist Protest in the Alpine Region, Brussels: P.I.E.-Peter Lang, pp. 209–227.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Mény, Y. and Surel, Y. (2002) ‘The Constitutive Ambiguity of Populism’, in Y. Mény and Y. Surel (eds.) Democracies and the Populist Challenge, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 1–21.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Mudde, C. (2004) ‘The populist zeitgeist’, Government and Opposition 39 (4): 541–563.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  35. Papadopoulos, Y. (2002) ‘Populism, the Democratic Question, and Contemporary Governance’, in Y. Mény and Y. Surel (eds.) Democracies and the Populist Challenge, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 45–61.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Papadopoulos, Y. (2003) ‘Cooperative forms of governance: problems of democratic accountability in complex environments’, European Journal of Political Research 42: 473–501.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Papadopoulos, Y. (2005) ‘Populism as the Other Side of Consociational Multi-level Democracies’, in D. Caramani and Y. Menu (eds.) Challenges to Consensual Politics: Democracy, Identity, and Populist Protest in the Alpine Region, Brussels: P.I.E.-Peter Lang, pp. 71–81.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Pharr, S. and Putnam, R. (eds.) (2000) Disaffected Democracies: What's Troubling the Trilateral Countries?, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Powell, G. (2000) Elections as Instruments of Democracy: Majoritarian and Proportional Visions, New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Riker, W. (1975) ‘Federalism’, in F. Greenstein and N. Polsby (eds.) Handbook of Political Science, 5: Governmental Institutions and Processes, Reading: Addison-Wesley, pp. 93–172.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Rydgren, J. (2004) ‘Explaining the emergence of radical right-wing populist parties: the case of Denmark’, West European Politics 273: 474–502.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Scharpf, F. (1988) ‘The joint-decision trap: lessons from german federalism and European integration’, Public Administration 66 (2): 239–278.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Shugart, M. and Carey, J. (1992) Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Stepan, A. (1999) ‘Federalism and democracy: beyond the US model’, Journal of Democracy 10 (4): 19–34.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Taggart, P. (2000) Populism, Buckingham: Open University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Taggart, P. (2002) ‘Populism and the Pathology of Representative Politics’, in Y. Mény and Y. Surel (eds.) Democracies and the Populist Challenge, Basingstoke: Palgrave, pp. 62–80.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Taggart, P. (2004) ‘Populism and representative politics in contemporary Europe’, Journal of Political Ideologies 9 (3): 269–288.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Taguieff, P.-A. (1993–1994) ‘From race to culture: the new right's view of European identity’, Telos 98–99: 99–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • populism
  • consensus democracy
  • majoritarian democracy
  • federalism
  • West European politics