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Working paper

POPULISM AND PROTEST INTENSITY: A CROSS-NATIONAL ANALYSIS

Populist studies are increasingly interested in the effects that populism has on political systems of contemporary democracies. This article analyzes the relationship between populist parties and politicians and the intensity of political protest. Arguing that populists generate feelings of anger and outrage at the establishment politicians, develop close relationships with social movements, and instigate further polarization and resistance from the opposition, the existence of populist actors in a political system is expected to generate more political protests. Empirical testing using cross-national figures considers the case of both the prevalence of populist parties in European countries and the existence of a populist politician as the head of government in European, Latin American, and North American countries. The results testify to strong positive correlations in both cases demonstrating the potential that populism has for socio-political destabilization. However, when tests are performed in order to observe whether this relationship holds within different geographical and temporal spaces, strong negative relationships are shown with populists prior to the year 2000 and positive ones afterwards. Finally, once the ideological disposition of the populist leaders is accounted for, the results testify to a diverging pattern; whereas the populist radical right and radical left are strongly associated with increasing protests after the year 2000, in the decade prior, centrist or neoliberal populism demonstrated a significantly negative correlation with protest intensity.