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Populists in power: the ideational approach applied to populist governments

Grant number: 19/06503-0
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Master
Effective date (Start): January 01, 2020
Effective date (End): April 30, 2021
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Political Science
Principal researcher:Adrian Gurza Lavalle
Grantee:Ana Laura Rodrigues Ferreira Ferrari
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


This work specifically dialogues with the ideational approach to populism, which defines it as an ideology that interprets society in the division between the people and the elite and defends the expression of the general will of the people at all costs. As will be detailed, the ideational approach brings relevant analytical advantages by giving centrality to ideas for explaining and identifying populist movements and leaders in varied times and regions. Despite these advantages, most empirical research resulting from this approach identifies populism in the discourse of political leaders. It is argued that the ideational approach, by having its analytical focus on discourse, does not satisfactorily delimit the extension of the populism concept, includes false positives among the cases classified as populist and neglects a fundamental dimension for the identification of the political phenomenon studied here: the actions implemented at the institutional level by politicians who propagate populist discourses. Although the literature points out that the logic of populist ideology about the unity of the people and the construction of a common enemy may lead to authoritarian actions by the rulers who adopt it, the ideational approach as currently developed neglects this point. To address this gap, this research proposes to: (1) supplement the ideational approach to populism so that it is able to inform the study of populist governments by developing the concept of populist government, which will be two-dimensional and will feature a discursive and an institutional dimension; (2) to test the expansion of the ideational approach by operationalizing the populist government concept, by identifying the populist discourse by the Global Populism Database and by measuring authoritarian advancement in the institutional dimension by the Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) database. (AU)