The notion of populism occupies a significant place in political science and is often included in discussions regarding democracy. Various authors suggest different connections between these concepts, which range from populism providing support to democracy to threatening it. Although the populistic ideology is generally referring to the necessity to present the people with the power to express their will and influence the political decisions, numerous scholars claim that populism can be a menace to the prosperity of democratic ideas (Urbinati, 2019). Nevertheless, several substantial factors establish the positive impact of the populistic movement on democracy, benefiting the country’s citizens. In this work, the major reasons behind the positive connection between populism and democracy, namely the protection of public involvement in politics, support of neglected communities, and the alleviation of democratic crisis, will be evaluated.
Supporting the rule of the people
The debate between the followers of populism and democracy considerably affects the scientific community, frequently portraying populistic ideas as threatening the affluence of democracy. However, populism originates from the concepts that strengthen the power of the people and aim to construct a society that values the opinions of the majority. In this regard, populistic interests perfectly coincide with democratic notions of the rule by the people, which focus on creating a government that is representing the views and ideas of the public (Stavrakakis, 2018). Both of these ideologies value the input of the individuals who are influenced by state decisions, claiming that political power should be governed by the representatives of numerous communities (Blühdorn & Butzlaff, 2019). Therefore, populism and democracy guard the interests of the public majority, the citizens affected by political and governmental choices.
Including minorities to enhance democratic strength
Another factor that allows populism to potentially enhance the strength of democracy is the adherence to the opinions of all individuals, which might be neglected in the democratic model. The opportunities to alter the public opinion through power, available to the political elite, considerably undermine the possibility of the rule by the people, changing it to the rule by the elite (Sandel, 2018). Instead of acting as an aid to public representatives, democracy might promote the strength of the political parties, who gather influence through impacting the views of the majority towards the needed direction (Sharon, 2019). Populism, on the other hand, adopts an anti-elitist approach, which ensures that the desires of the “pure people” who are not included in the elite are heard and represented (Wolkenstein, 2019, p. 345). A perfect example is observed in the Latin American countries that adopted populism in their political doctrines, ensuring the inclusion of non-privileged communities and impoverished sectors. Thus, populistic ideas might strengthen the weaknesses of democracy, negating the elitist suppression.
Promoting the interest of the public
The democratic decline is essential for the understanding of the benefits of populism for the promotion of democracy. In the democratic regime, the public tends to exhibit diminished support for the existing governmental institutions, as well as the political parties. The lack of relevant representation and unfulfilled promises made by democratic leaders reduce the trust of the individuals toward the suggested innovations (Urbinati, 2019). As the elite majority, instead of the general majority, begins to occupy a tremendous part of political discourse, the public interest in political participation begins to decline rapidly. However, populism might positively contribute to the resolution of the democratic crisis, ensuring that all public needs are met, and all community representatives are present within the institutions (Mohrenberg et al., 2021). For instance, in some European countries, populism has been known to empower the underprivileged middle class and guard the safety of traditional values, thus increasing the nation’s interest in politics. Acting is a strategy of establishing a balance between popular movements and political parties, populism can further the spread of democratic ideas, promoting the rule by the people.
Scholarly critique of populism and possible resolutions
Nevertheless, some authors argue that populism can antagonize democracy, lessening its impact. A major populistic principle that can undermine democracy is the anti-elitist doctrine which negates the possibility of the elite participating in political discussions and occupying powerful positions (Ruth-Lovell et al., 2019). From this perspective, populism excludes a group of individuals from political activities distinguishing between successful populations and the general public. Another factor is the disregard for pluralism, which prompts the decline of numerous political parties and alleviates the opportunity for free choice. Although these complications might be formidable for the development of democracy, multiple scholars explain that an appropriate implementation of populism that avoids extreme measures and right-wing suggestions can be a remarkable benefit for the democratic movement (Sharon, 2019). Indeed even though some extreme populistic notions might be harmful, in general, popularism might be an advantageous tool that enhances the spread of democratic ideas.
To conclude, the connection between populism and democracy, namely the opportunities to improve democratic impact evident in populistic concepts of public rule, minority inclusion, and community representation, was just cast in detail in this work. The overall principles established by the populistic ideology adhere to the attributes of democracy, as they aim to protect the rights of a society to be involved in governmental and political decisions. Populism can also act as a strengthening factor for democratic ideals, ensuring that all community representatives are included in political discussions and maintaining public interest in these endeavors. Altogether, even though some radical populistic concepts might decrease the prosperity of democracy, when applied properly, they can enhance the affluence of this ideology.
Blühdorn, I. and Butzlaff, F. (2019) ‘Rethinking populism: Peak democracy, liquid identity and the performance of sovereignty’, European Journal of Social Theory, 22(2), pp. 191–211.
Mohrenberg, S., Huber, R. A. and Freyburg, T. (2021) ‘Love at first sight? Populist attitudes and support for direct democracy’. Party Politics, 27(3), pp. 528–539.
Ruth-Lovell, S. P., Lührmann, A. and Grahn, S. (2019) ‘Democracy and populism: Testing a contentious relationship’. SSRN Electronic Journal.
Sandel, M. J. (2018) ‘Populism, liberalism, and democracy’. Philosophy & Social Criticism, 44(4), pp. 353–359.
Sharon, A. (2019) ‘Populism and democracy: The challenge for deliberative democracy’. European Journal of Philosophy, 27(2), pp. 359–376.
Stavrakakis, Y. (2018) ‘Populism, anti-populism and democracy’. Political Insight, 9(3), pp. 33–35.
Urbinati, N. (2019) ‘Political theory of populism’. Annual Review of Political Science, 22(1), pp. 111–127.
Wolkenstein, F. (2019) ‘Populism, liberal democracy and the ethics of peoplehood’. European Journal of Political Theory, 18(3), pp. 330–348.