We contend that contemporary support for populist parties stems from a set of economic and cultural developments that have severed the connections that usually bind people to their society. Building on an important ethnographic literature, we assess whether populism can be seen as a problem of social integration through an examination of political attitudes and electoral behavior in 26 developed democracies. Using subjective social status as an indicator for the social integration of individuals, we find that people who feel more marginal to society, because they lack social engagement or a sense of social respect, are more likely to be alienated from mainstream politics and to not vote or vote for parties of the populist right or left. The implication is that support for parties of the populist right and left has both economic and cultural roots and should be addressed, not only as an issue of economic deprivation requiring redistribution, but also as an issue of social integration requiring efforts to expand social recognition.
Noam Gidron is fellow at the Niehaus Center for Globalization and Governance at Princeton. Noam received his Ph.D. from Harvard University in May 2016. His research focuses on political sociology and electoral politics in advanced democracies. It draws on multiple methods, including survey analysis, experiments, text analysis, and elite interviews. Geographically, Noam’s work covers member states of the European Union, the United States and Israel. Next year, Noam will join the faculty of the political science department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.