Populist attitudes and threat perceptions of global transformations and governance: Experimental evidence from India and the United Kingdom

James Dennison, Stuart J. Turnbull-Dugarte

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Contemporary global crises and transformations—including climate change, migration, digitalization, pandemics, financial and economic integration, and terrorism—increasingly determine democratic politics and policymaking. We examine how populist attitudes are associated with perceptions of the threats posed by these six global crises and transformations. Using original survey data in India and the United Kingdom alongside secondary data in the United Kingdom, we robustly show that stronger populist attitudes are positively associated with the perception of threat posed by all six crises and transformations—particularly to the economy and national way of life, but also, of theoretical note, to humanitarian concerns. Furthermore, experimentally priming populist individuals on global governance solutions to each transformation has no effect on their perception of threat, suggesting that such threat perceptions are not driven by political concerns but by the societal crises and transformations themselves. Overall, our findings theoretically support the ideational conceptualization of populism as a thin ideology, distinct from nationalism or left-right attitudes, which acts as a broad, if thin, political psychological predisposition. Substantially, we cautiously argue that our findings may give cause for optimism about the potential to rally popular support for global governance solutions to global challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)873-892
Number of pages20
JournalPolitical Psychology
Issue number5
Early online date22 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

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