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Populism is a political term describing a political agenda which aims to favor the average person over the elite. It is an agenda that appeals outside the norms acceptable to the establishment political class and its supportive mainstream media. The term can be either negative or positive based on the context. The Populist Party in the U.S. in the 1890s was a coalition of leftist farmers and workers. 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 elitist and 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. No better distinction can be seen in the modern era than between the mainstream populist Trump, and the progressive populist Bernie Sanders.

In the 21st century in both the United States and Europe, populism is seen as resistance to globalism.[1] 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.[2]

Conservative populism

See also: Right-wing populism

New conservative parties formed Europe in the late 20th century are adopting a populist style, often criticizing mass immigration.[3]

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

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.

See also


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


  1. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2018/01/populism-douglas-hofstadter-donald-trump-democracy
  2. Multiple references:
  3. 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