‘Void’ democrats? The populist notion of ‘democracy’ in action

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Populism is often seen as a threat to liberal democracy because of its rejection of constitutional constraints and emphasis on popular sovereignty. Others argue that populism is a corrective to mainstream politics and not necessarily anti-democratic. While the relationship between populism and democracy is widely debated in theory and empirically assessed by estimating the effect of populist rule, we analyse discursive references to democracy in election manifestos and tweets of populist radical right (PRRP) and populist radical left (PRLP) parties in seven Western European countries. By mapping populists’ discourses on democracy across electoral, liberal, participatory, deliberative and egalitarian dimensions, we find that PRLP elaborate a more coherent understanding of democracy (especially its participatory and egalitarian dimensions) and do not reject any dimension. PRRP hardly elaborate on any dimension except participation. PRRP appear as ‘void’ democrats with ambivalent and incoherent credentials, which at times reject and instrumentalise democracy.

Original languageEnglish
JournalParty Politics
Number of pages14
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13.09.2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2023.

    Research areas

  • Politics - Western Europe, content analysis, democracy, political parties, populism