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Populism is a political term describing a political agenda that aims to favor the ordinary person over the elite. It is an agenda that appeals outside the norms acceptable to the establishment political class and its supportive mainstream media.

Examples of populist legislation include the Right to Try Act, which was opposed by the FDA, Big Pharma, and their political allies. Opposition to globalism and unlimited immigration is also a populist view. Donald Trump has strong populist support, and became the leader of conservative populism attracting 50,000 for a rally in the small town of Pickens, South Carolina on July 1, 2023. Former Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) is a populist. Italy's Giorgia Meloni, who swept into power in September 2022, is also a conservative populist.[1]

A populist focuses on the basic preferences and wishes of ordinary people, while an elitist tries unsuccessfully to extrapolate from his own unusual privileges and experiences. Professors and hedge fund traders are examples of elitists.

Populism can have both conservative and liberal elements. Voters who supported both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are populists. The Populist Party in the U.S. in the 1890s was a left-leaning coalition of leftist farmers and workers, who opposed the gold-only monetary standard. In the late 20th century Ronald Reagan and other conservatives adopted populist themes, attacking elites, such as federal judges and the national media, as too distant from the people, and calling for more power to the people.

Since 1900 famous populist leaders in the U.S. included Huey Long campaigning from the left in the 1930s, George Wallace (combining both left and right elements) in the 1968 presidential election, and Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump from the right in the 1980 and 2016 presidential elections, respectively. Among U.S. Senators, Ron Johnson (R-WI) is perhaps the leading populist in the early 21st century. Reportedly 12% of the supporters of the far-left Bernie Sanders in 2016 voted for the conservative, national-populist Donald Trump in the general election.

In the 21st century in both the United States and Europe, populism is seen as resistance to globalism.[2] According to a May 2018 Pew Research Center survey, Western Europeans were more divided politically based on their views on populism versus the establishment than they were on traditional "left" versus "right" distinctions.[3]

In late December 2020 amidst a massive "coronavirus relief" spending bill being passed by Congress, anti-establishment, populist-leaning politicians from both sides including Tulsi Gabbard[4] (D-HI) and Andy Biggs[5] (R-AZ) criticized and denounced the pork-barrel legislation that only included $600 stimulus checks for Americans, with some far-left Democrats even concurring with President Trump's call for a larger sum of $2,000 checks.[6] However, establishmentarians such as Amy Klobuchar opposed Trump's proposal to further help Americans.[7]

Conservative and right-wing populism

See also: Right-wing populism

New conservative parties formed in Europe in the late 20th century are adopting a populist style, often criticizing mass immigration.[8]

Conservative populism has often been attacked by liberals as "radical right", falsely implying that it is somehow beyond the bounds of legitimate debate.

Professor Eric Kaufmann says about a graph showing the correlation between the projected growth of the Muslim population and the rise of right-wing nationalism in a country:

Figure 1 shows an important relationship between projected Muslim population share in 2030 and support for the populist right across 16 countries in Western Europe. Having worked with IIASA World Population Program researchers who generated cohort-component projections of Europe’s Muslim population for Pew in 2011, I am confident their projections are the most accurate and rigorous available. I put this together with election and polling data for the main West European populist right parties using the highest vote share or polling result I could find. Note the striking 78 percent correlation (R2 of .61) between projected Muslim share in 2030, a measure of both the level and rate of change of the Muslim population, and the best national result each country’s populist right has attained."[9]

Samuel P. Huntington's thesis on The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order keeps getting vindicated.

Populism and Progressivism

Populism and Progressivism, while sometimes have gone hand in hand, remain two distinct notions. Fundamentally, populism is democratic, even if at times it has a wrongheaded approach, as can occur; whereas Progressivism is fundamentally anti-democratic and the road to technocracy and authoritarianism.

Longtime liberal representative Marcy Kaptur has been considered in some respects a progressive populist[10][11] for her consistent stance in opposing "free trade" agreements.[12] While anti-Trump, she praised the president's steel tariffs in early March 2018.[13] Kaptur has noted her party's establishment to be out-of-touch with working-class Americans.[14]

See also


  • Kazin, Michael. The Populist Persuasion: An American History (1995), 380pp, the standard history, by a liberal historian


  1. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/sep/24/italy-right-georgia-meloni-after-election-voting-closes
  2. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/01/populism-douglas-hofstadter-donald-trump-democracy
  3. Multiple references:
  4. Dem Rep. Tulsi Gabbard: Why I Voted Against The 5,500-Page COVID Spending Bill
  5. Biggs: COVID Relief Bill ‘Should Be Vetoed’ by Pocket Veto
  6. Georgia Senate candidate Ossoff backs Trump's call for $2K checks
  7. Klobuchar: ‘We Have the Votes’ to Override COVID Relief Veto, Trump ‘Should Not Be Doing This Right Now’
  8. Hans-George Betz, "The New Politics of Resentment: Radical Right-Wing Populist Parties in Western Europe ", Comparative Politics, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Jul., 1993), pp. 413-427 in JSTOR Abstract
  9. Why the fear of Islamization is driving populist right support – and what to do about it, Eric Kaufmann
  10. Gray, Eliza (August 26, 2019). The Quiet Endurance of Marcy Kaptur. The Washington Post. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  11. Eaton, Sabrina (December 1, 2020). Panel bypasses Rep. Marcy Kaptur for House Appropriations Committee chair. cleveland.com. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  12. Marcy Kaptur on the Issues. On the Issues. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  13. Fox, Michelle (March 2, 2018). Democratic congresswoman supports Trump’s tariffs: We can’t afford to lose US steel production. CNBC. Retrieved February 2, 2021.
  14. Stanage, Niall (February 2, 2021). The Memo: Ohio Dem says many in party 'can't understand' working-class concerns. The Hill. Retrieved February 2, 2021.