Published on The Guardian
Analysis of nearly half a million responses to the ‘How populist are you?’ quiz reveals populist attitudes are widespread, but vary by age, gender and location
The p-word has become something of a pejorative, and few people would self-define as populist.
But two thirds of people who completed the Guardian’s How populist are you? were classified as populist, with the vast majority of them placed in the same left-populist grouping as politicians like the US senator Bernie Sanders, the Bolivian president, Evo Morales, and the leader of the Spanish radical leftwing party Podemos, Pablo Iglesias.
Women who took the survey were also more likely to hold populist attitudes than men.
Almost half a million people have taken the Guardian’s quiz, which was built by political scientists using survey questions designed to gauge the appeal of populist ideas, as well as beliefs aligned along a more familiar left-right axis. A majority – 59% – gave answers that classified them as leftwing populists.
Team Populism, the network of academics who helped build the Guardian’s survey, said the results were broadly consistent with their own research, which shows that populist attitudes are more widespread than people often realise.
The prevalence of leftwing populist attitudes was higher among women; 71% of respondents who said they were women were classified as left populist, compared with 54% of men. Young people were relatively more receptive to populist ideas; 69% fell into either the populist left or populist right quadrants.
Levente Littvay, an associate professor at Central European University, said he was surprised to see such a gender difference, which he described as “small but certainly meaningful difference”. He stressed that the Guardian’s survey was not a representative sample and said further research should be conducted to explore potential gender differences on the populist list.
Quiz takers in the US were more likely to give populist responses (of both left and right) than respondents from the UK. And users in the rest of the EU were the least populist of all; 30% of them gave answers that put them in the non-populist left quadrant, compared with 22% overall.
Respondents were told which leading politician they were closest to based on their answers. Perhaps unsurprisingly for a quiz that featured on the Guardian, less than 1% of respondents professed to beliefs that tied them most closely to either Donald Trump or Nigel Farage.
In all, 33% of users were most similar to Barack Obama, and 23% were most like Spain’s Iglesias.
Many quiz users expressed curiosity at their comparison to the leader of Podemos. Since emerging from theindignados movement in 2014, Podemos has battled against corrupt elites, terminated four decades of political duopoly in Spain, and tried and failed to become the dominant voice of the Spanish left. But the party’s rapid advance has put Iglesias in a position of influence, and his party now props up Pedro Sánchez’s socialist minority government.
Podemos has lost momentum over the past two years , wounded by the internal squabbles, rifts and rivalries that bedevil more mainstream political parties. In May Iglesias and his partner, Irene Montero, were criticised for buying a €600,000 (£525,000) house in the mountains outside Madrid as they prepared to become the parents of twins. How, some of their supporters wondered, did the purchase sit with the principles of a man named after the father of Spanish socialism?
And yet Podemos remains a powerful force, thanks in part to an enduring antipathy towards the political elite that has governed Spain since the country’s return to democracy after the death of Franco.
“When Podemos emerged, they were almost a textbook example of populism,” said Raul Gomez, a senior politics lecturer at the University of Liverpool. “They didn’t even mention the terms left or right, which they claimed were outdated. They focused on the struggle between the people and the ‘corrupt elite’.”
A key component of populism, says Gomez, is a binary view of politics: there are the good – the people – and then there are the elites who take advantage of them. “The key difference between leftwing and rightwing populists is that leftwing populists have an inclusive conception of ‘the people’. For Podemos, the people is an underdog coalition which also includes minorities and not just natives. What holds them together is their opposition to the economic and political elites, who are accused of hijacking democracy.”
However, Gomez wonders whether Iglesias himself has ever been a complete populist. “I’d say for him populism is only a strategy. A way to simplify the message and send it across. A way to reach out to people who have a leftwing profile but would not listen to the old leftwing rhetoric.”
The placement of the political leaders on the Guardian’s quiz was done by asking experts on each politician to complete the same survey as if they were that person. To make this more reliable, experts – academics, journalists and others – were asked to complete the survey for each politician, and an average was taken of their answers.
Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser, a professor at Diego Portales University in Chile, and one of the experts who helped plot Latin American politicians, said social media users complaining that Evo Morales was misplaced on the graph may not have have realised the left-right axis combined both economic and cultural questions.
“Some of these leftist presidents in Latin America, while very leftwing in terms of economic policy, are pretty conservative on cultural issues – particularly compared with Europe,” he said.
Some of Podemos’s inspiration has been drawn from Latin American political theory and from studying the region’s current and former leftwing leaders, such as Morales, the former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa and the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez.
“Latin American populism has probably had a big effect on the Podemos crowd,” says Kirk Hawkins, an expert on populism aat Brigham Young University, and the coordinator of the Team Populism network.
“Some Podemos leaders visited Venezuela to observe and ‘advise’ chavismoin its earlier years,” adds Hawkins. “And there is a fair amount of talk in radical leftist circles in Spain and beyond about the Chavista experience – most of it celebratory.”