Support for populist sentiment in Europe has fallen sharply over the past three years, according to a major YouGov survey, with significantly fewer people agreeing with key statements designed to measure it.
The YouGov-Cambridge Globalism Project’s annual populism tracker, produced with the Guardian, revealed a widely sustained decline in populist beliefs in 10 European countries, prompting its authors to suggest that the broader electoral appeal of some may have. peaked.
Political scientists said the latest findings showed “a clear downward trend in support for populism,” but added that the findings could mask a higher degree of radicalization among populist voters and that the pandemic could be a factor.
In France, the percentage of adults stating that they believe that “the will of the people must be the supreme principle of the politics of this country”, a key populist principle, rose from 66% in 2019 to 62% in 2020 and 55% in 2021., revealed the investigation.
Other EU countries showing the same sharp drop were Germany (66%, 63%, 61%), Denmark (61%, 56%, 50%), Spain (75%, 68%, 65%), Italy (72%, 71%, 64%) and Poland (80%, 71%, 65%), as well – outside the bloc – as Great Britain (66%, 60%, 56 %).
Populism, which presents politics as a battle between ordinary people and corrupt elites, has rapidly grown as a political force, with support for populist parties in national elections across Europe rising from 7% to over 25% in 20 years.
Mainly far-right populist leaders – Italian Matteo Salvini, French Marine Le Pen, Hungarian Viktor OrbÃ¡n or Swede Jimmie Ã kesson – have flourished and populist parties are or have been in government in several EU countries .
Support for the idea that “my country is divided between ordinary people and the corrupt elites who exploit them” slipped from 61% to 49% in France, and was also down in Germany (54% -46%), in Sweden (42% -36%), Denmark (29% -15), Spain (70% -65%), Italy (65% -54%), Poland (73% -63%) and the United Kingdom (58% to 54%).
Agreement with the claim that “a lot of important information is deliberately withheld from the public for personal gain” was also lower over the three years, by six to 17 percentage points in the same countries – although it is remained high in some, such as Spain (79%).
Matthijs Rooduijn, political sociologist at the University of Amsterdam and expert on populism, said the survey, conducted among more than 24,000 voters in 22 different countries, showed “a sharp decline” in support for populist ideas in the country. over the past three years.
But while he suggested that voters, on average, seemed to become more moderate and less receptive to populist ideas, “the small group of very loud people, who vote for radical right-wing populist parties, for example, are perhaps become more radical – more, rather than less, populist â.
Rooduijn also said some of the statements could exploit anti-expert and anti-elite sentiments that had been dampened by the coronavirus pandemic, which – while it had pushed minority groups such as anti-vaccines to become more extreme – had tended to build confidence in science and, to some extent, in governments. “This is already changing,” he said.
Despite concerns about the increasing prevalence of conspiracy theories during the Covid-19 pandemic, several countries in the study also showed a sustained overall decline in the proportion of people espousing conspiratorial sentiments.
Support for the belief that “the power of a few special interests prevents our country from progressing”, for example, has fallen from 72% to 58% in France, also losing five percentage points in Germany, nine in Sweden, 15 in Denmark. , 10 in Spain, 12 in Italy and 11 in Poland and the United Kingdom.
While several non-EU countries, including Brazil and Mexico, have shown a similar trend, others including India, Thailand and most notably the United States – where there has been little change in overall levels agree with one of the statements of the three-year survey survey – did not.
The authors of the survey, which was carried out in August and September, suggested that this could mean that “certain forms of anti-establishment discontent” were more entrenched in these countries.
But the fact that between 2019 and 2021 no significant trend emerged showing populist sentiment going the other way “perhaps suggests that the kudos of populist-style beliefs have already peaked in various parts of the world. “, they noted.
The survey again revealed that Denmark stood out as a kind of bastion of anti-popular sentiment, with surprisingly low levels of agreement with most statements compared to other countries.
Only 8% of respondents in Denmark, for example, agreed with the statement “you can tell if a person is good or bad by their policies”, 18% with the view that special interests precluded progress, and 15% feeling that their country was divided into ordinary people and corrupt elites.
The survey also showed that when it comes to the practical consequences of a populist approach to politics – such as the UK vote on Brexit – many Europeans tend to take a more neutral stance.
When asked about the impact of Britain’s departure from the EU on the economic situation and the unity of the bloc, respondents in the 10 European countries (including the UK) polled mostly said that it made no difference overall.
Notably, however, they were more likely to have a negative opinion than a positive one. Only 6% in Germany, for example, thought Brexit had made other EU member states more united, compared with a fifth (20%) saying it did the opposite.
Likewise, 37% in Spain believed Brexit had hurt the EU economically, compared with just 8% believing it had left the bloc in a better position.
The survey was carried out between August 4 and September 21 on representative samples of more than 1,000 people in 10 European countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Hungary, Poland, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom. United and 17 other countries including Australia. , United States, Brazil, Mexico, Turkey, Russia, China, Japan and South Africa.