The Populism in Action Project is (almost) in the Can: Thank You for Following Our Work Since 2019!

As the ESRC-funded research project: “The survival of the mass party: Evaluating activism and participation among populist radical right parties (PRRPs) in Europe” (ES/R011540/1) – known as the “Populism in Action Project” – comes to a close in April 2022, we would like to thank everybody that we have worked with and who has taken the time to connect with us and engage with our research.

This project mostly took place amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, which proved to be the worst public health crisis to engulf Europe in living memory. That Populism in Action continued and managed to achieve the ambitious objectives that we set in the summer of 2019 is testimony to the skill and commitment of our staff and partners, as well as the support of the wider community of scholars, non-academic experts, and the interested public that we have had the pleasure of working with. Which is to say: thank you.

Between the summer of 2019 and the spring of 2022 our project team racked up 149 individual media appearances (averaging more than one a week), appearing in news outlets based on every continent besides Antarctica.

We have posted 130 items of content to our website, including videos, podcasts, details of events and briefing notes, as well as incisive and timely short form written analysis from our team and many of the rising stars of populism research working at universities across Europe.

To date 9 academic publications have been accepted and published in peer reviewed journals and edited collections based upon research conducted by the project. This includes contributions to an Open Access Special Issue of Politics and Governance edited by the Project’s Prof. Daniele Albertazzi and Dr. Stijn van Kessel, for which all of the project’s Research Fellows wrote articles on their case study countries. The Special Issue also included articles exploring the phenomenon of contemporary populist radical right party organisation across Europe to create a truly comparative contribution to political party scholarship.

These publications are just the start. There are many others in the works, including a monograph drawing together the research undertaken during the project which is due to be published in 2023.

Our staff are continuing their careers in various capacities at higher education institutions across Europe. Dr. Adrian Favero, who was the Project’s Switzerland focused Research Fellow, has now taken up an Assistant Professorship in European Government and Society at the University of Groningen. Dr. Niko Hatakka, who was the Finland focused Research Fellow, is now undertaking a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the University of Helsinki. Dr. Judith Sijstermans, who was our Belgium (Flanders region) focused Research Fellow, is now Research Fellow on Prof. Nicola McEwen’s UK in a Changing Europe project: “A Family of Nations? Brexit, Devolution and the Union” at the University of Edinburgh, while also teaching on politics programmes at the University of Dundee. Dr. Mattia Zulianello, who was the project’s Italy focused Research Fellow, has now taken up an Assistant Professorship in Political Science at the University of Trieste. Donatella Bonansinga, who was the project’s Research Assistant, is completing her PhD at the University of Birmingham and is embarking on a new project with Prof. Daniele Albertazzi analysing the European populist radical right’s use of TikTok. All five continue to collaborate with Prof. Daniele Albertazzi and Dr. Stijn van Kessel on future publications and other projects. Josh Allen, who was the project’s Communications Officer, is continuing his career in higher education public engagement and research communications, by taking up a position with an ESRC funded research centre at the University of Warwick, while also continuing his freelance work with a wide range of cultural and heritage organisations across the English Midlands.

This website will remain online for the foreseeable future as an archive, as will the Populism in Action section of EA Worldview who were our media partner throughout the project. EA Worldview is edited by Prof. Scott Lucas who has provided invaluable advice and support to the project on external engagement from when it was on the drawing board through to the writing up stage.

The Project’s Twitter and Facebook accounts will remain active, providing updates on the forthcoming book and other developments.

Many thanks to the UKRI Economic and Social Research Council for their grant funding, and to the University of Surrey, University of Birmingham, and Queen Mary University of London for their essential support to the project. Many thanks also to the hundreds of representatives and members of the Lega (League), Vlaams Belang (Flemish Interest), Perussuomalaiset (Finns Party) and Schweizerische Volkspartei (Swiss People’s Party) who have agreed to talk to us: we simply could not have done it without them. But especially, thanks to you for your engagement over the part 2 and a half years. We look forward to continuing the conversations that we have started in the years to come and to further developing our research into populist radical right party organisation.

The rise of Chega and its impact on the Portuguese party system

by Dr. Mariana S. Mendes (Technical University Dresden)

Portugal’s snap general election in late January 2022 made international headlines due to the incumbent left of centre Socialist Party (PS) gaining a surprise outright majority. This was a historic result for the PS, which had had to rely on the support of two radical left parties since 2015 in order to govern. At a time when many of the PS’ European counterparts struggle, it is little wonder social democrats elsewhere look to Portugal for inspiration.

Behind the overall image of stability, however, significant transformations are occurring in the Portuguese party system, particularly on the right. Traditionally occupied only by the centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD), which remains the second largest party, and the Christian Democrat CDS-PP, the political right first showed signs of fragmentation in 2019, with the emergence of the populist radical right Chega and the Liberal Initiative (IL). In 2022, Chega and IL expanded from one seat apiece in the previous legislature to twelve and eight MPs, respectively. Increased competition by these new parties contributed to a disastrous result for the CDS-PP – a party that had been a reliable coalition partner for the PSD –, which was left with no seats in parliament. The PSD has also been impacted. By gaining a 28% vote share, the party did not manage to improve on its 2019 poll ratings, largely falling behind expectations. This is in itself evidence of a more polarised party system, as Chega and IL adopt more radical positions than the now defunct CDS-PP (Chega on both cultural and socio-economic issues, IL on socio-economic ones only).

Naturally, it is the rapid rise of the populist radical right that raises most eyebrows. Chega (meaning Enough) is now the third largest party in parliament. Established in 2019 by the former PSD militant André Ventura, the party leapt from 1.3% of the vote that year, to 7.2% in 2022. This result was not a surprise, though. Chega’s leader had already performed strongly in the 2021 Presidential election, garnering 12% of the vote, and opinion polling had been relatively stable between 2020 and 2022 (with Chega’s voting intentions generally oscillating between 5% and 9%). Though Chega had set its sights higher, it took the 2022 election result as a victory.

Chega’s rapid growth should not be regarded as the outcome of contextual circumstances specific to the current moment. Its low poll in 2019 (1.3%) is best explained by it being a brand new party then. Though it had already benefited from some media visibility before, it pales in comparison to the torrent of media attention that eventually came after obtaining a parliamentary seat. Moreover, researchers had already identified a latent social ‘demand’ for such a party, given the prevalence of ‘populist attitudes’ among the Portuguese population. Indeed, these attitudes are so widespread that it would be legitimate to wonder why Chega’s score is not higher, given that anti-elitism is central to the party’s discourse (for more on the party’s agenda, see here).

It is worth noting that Chega’s vote share remains below the average of radical right parties in Western Europe. While this may change over time, I have argued (with James Dennison) that Chega has not yet benefited from the ‘political opportunities’ that have aided many of its European counterparts, given the low salience of immigration as a concern amongst the Portuguese. This does not mean that the party has not been able to profit from nativism. In fact, Ventura does better in municipalities with higher shares of Roma people, whom his rhetoric often targets. Still, as Magalhães notes, Portugal seemingly remains ‘semi-detached’ from this world, given the salience of the socio-economic dimension to political competition, relating to specific socio-economic conditions and to differences in the class and educational composition of the electorate.

But if Chega’s rise clearly shows that there is a constituency for its claims, its influence on the election’s results might be even more profound. Though nobody can know for sure, pundits have frequently pointed out that the concentration of the left of centre vote in the Socialist party and an increase in turnout were at least partially the result of the fear of ending up with a right-wing majority that would include Chega. Voter’s rejection of Chega is quite high, judging by the fact that, among the leaders of major parties, André Ventura receives the most negative evaluations in opinion polls (with an overall score of 2,3 on a scale that goes from 0=very negative to 10=very positive, according to this ICS/ISCTE December 2021 poll). This is yet another example that supports the call for more research on ‘negative voting’ or the extent to which the rejection of certain parties affects the voting choices of sections of the electorate.

Despite the leader of the centre-right PSD stating during the campaign that his party rejected an alliance with Chega, his reassurances often seemed half-hearted or not unequivocal enough. He also showed his willingness to negotiate with the PS, but the centre-left seemed unreceptive to this. Fears of an arrangement with Chega were not unfounded, given the existence of a precedent at regional level. Following the 2020 regional election in the Azores, the mainstream right consented to a series of demands by Chega in exchange for its parliamentary support in the region. Amongst those demands was the reduction of ‘welfare dependency’ (‘subsidiodependência’), one of Ventura’s favourite policies and one on which convergence with the centre-right does not seem too difficult.

As elsewhere in Europe, the rise of the radical right in Portugal poses a challenge to the mainstream right and has spurred much debate on potential alliances, including within the PSD itself. The discussion is not settled and will likely be kept on hold until the next election. Much also depends on the future leadership of the PSD. Bringing together moderate parties is complicated, not least because Portugal has no tradition of ‘grand coalitions’ (one exception in the 1980s aside). The PS’ turn to the radical left in 2015 was interpreted by some as the start of enhanced ‘inter-bloc’ competition in Portuguese politics. What Portugal does have is a tradition of minority governments (though usually these have been of the centre-left). This means that the future inclusion or exclusion of Chega does not depend on the mainstream right alone, but could also hinge on the willingness of the centre-left to facilitate the governability of a minority right-wing government that excluded the radical right.

For now, the centre-left is firmly committed to a strategy of ostracising Chega. It excluded Chega from talks with other parties and defended rejecting the party’s candidate for vice president of the Parliament (the four largest parties get to nominate an MP to be vice president). This has sparked much discussion as to whether a cordon sanitaire approach is the best one, with the usual mix of principled and strategic arguments fuelling the debate. Considering the seminal work of Bonnie Meguid on mainstream parties’ strategies towards niche parties, the choice of an adversarial strategy might be unwise from a strategic point of view, if the goal is to prevent the growth of the radical right; the reason being that this strategy puts the radical right on the spotlight, contributing to increasing the saliency of its preferred issues. However, Meguid also notes that an adversarial strategy towards the radical right carries incentives for the centre-left, as it can contribute to weakening the centre-left’s most direct competitor, i.e. the centre-right (since the radical right competes directly with the centre-right for the conservative vote). Whether the Portuguese centre-left has principled or strategic considerations in mind, cannot be grasped very easily. But if the PS is inclined towards the former, it should consider that the rejection of Chega and its ideas does not necessarily require a permanent adversarial posture. In fact, a dismissive strategy may even work better, not least in a scenario where many of Chega’s ‘core issues’ seem of little importance to the average Portuguese citizen.

This piece of original analysis for the Populism in Action Project, is a guest post kindly written by Dr. Mariana S. Mendes of the Dresden Technical University. Her PhD on “Delayed Transitional Justice: Accounting for Timing and Cross-country variation in transitional justice trajectories” was awarded by the European University Institute in 2019. You can follow Mariana on Twitter here.

Siding with the underdog: Explaining the populist radical right’s response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

by Prof. Daniele Albertazzi (University of Surrey), Dr. Adrian Favero (University of Groningen), Dr. Niko Hatakka (University of Helsinki), Dr. Judith Sijstermans (University of Edinburgh)

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has produced a dramatic shift in the positions of several of Europe’s populist radical right parties. Daniele Albertazzi, Adrian Favero, Niko Hatakka and Judith Sijstermans explain why parties that previously opposed refugees and voiced support for Vladimir Putin have been quick to change their approach in response to the war.

When Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s populist radical right League, visited the Polish town of Przemysl on 8 March, nobody had prepared him for the welcome party organised for him by the town mayor, Wojciech Bakun. Hoping to be thanked for bringing aid to Ukrainian refugees in the area, Salvini was instead reminded of the warm words he had said in the past about Russian President Vladimir Putin and gifted a T-shirt emblazoned with Putin’s own image. Salvini had posted pictures of himself wearing the very same T-shirt in Moscow, and had repeatedly visited Putin and representatives of his party in 2015 and 2017, while criticising the sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU after the 2014 annexation of Crimea.

We have been studying populist radical right parties in Western Europe for several years, including the language used by Italy’s League, the Finns party, Flemish Interest and the Swiss People’s Party on the issue of refugees and Russia. As parties within this family soften their tough image on asylum seeking in light of the conflict in Ukraine, and also reconsider their position on Russia, it is important to understand how far they are willing to go, and why.

As for attitudes towards Putin’s Presidency, the evidence shows that the radical right has shifted its positions quite rapidly. In Flanders, Flemish Interest had shown understanding for Vladimir Putin’s politics in the past, although it never embraced Salvini’s openly pro-Putin positions. Hence the party’s leader, Tom van Grieken, said of Putin on 13 December 2016: “He does a good job for Russian interests. But I’m not sure he is good for the rest of the world”, adding that “Putin is not black or white, but 50 shades of grey.” Moreover, three of the party’s MPs agreed to act as “international observers” for the referendum on the state of Crimea held in March 2014. While the party distanced itself from this visit, its MPs clearly contributed to legitimising the vote, one that had taken place after the region was invaded by Russian forces.

The attitude of the Swiss People’s Party has also arguably been less hostile to Russia than many other parties in Europe. For instance, it rejected calls to sanction the country in 2014, highlighting the need for Switzerland to remain neutral, despite Crimea having been annexed by force. As for the Finns Party, it has never been pro-Russian (unlike some far-right fringe parties in Finland), and yet its representatives criticised the EU’s decision to impose sanctions, in line with the pronounced Euroscepticism characterising the party in 2014.

Among the many consequences of the war in Ukraine, there has also been a reframing by many of these parties of their stance concerning both Russia and asylum seekers. Hence Salvini and van Grieken have expressed unequivocal support for Ukraine, with the latter tweeting about the difference between what he sees as “real” refugees fleeing Ukraine and the “fake” variety travelling to Europe from Syria and Afghanistan. His party has also attacked the Belgian government for what it perceives to be small and tardy investments in the defence sector. As such, Ukraine has served as a tool for Flemish Interest to bolster its own credentials as the party that cares about the country’s military strength.

Interestingly, the Russian invasion has completely changed the military policy of the Finns Party. In mid-February, the party’s parliamentary group leader had described the idea that Finland could join NATO as “somewhat unnecessary” and as “a factor that would undermine Finnish sovereignty”, reflecting the party’s long-standing support for retaining Finland’s non-allied status. Yet, after Ukraine was invaded, the leaders of the party’s parliamentary group and a majority of the party’s supporters accepted the need for NATO membership.

Therefore, of the parties that we have studied in our research project, the only one that does not appear to have shifted position because of Ukraine is the Swiss People’s Party. While Switzerland’s executive (of which the Swiss People’s Party is a member) decided on 28 February to adopt EU sanctions against Russia, the party insisted that Switzerland should remain committed to impartiality. The former minister (and high profile charismatic leader), Christoph Blocher, even stated that “by accepting to apply sanctions, Switzerland is now at war”.

How can we explain these shifts in the positions of most populist radical right parties? Firstly, it is important to stress the centrality that nationalism maintains for these parties’ identities. Hence the abandonment of Switzerland’s pluri-secular stance based on armed neutrality and independence from its larger European neighbours is unacceptable to the Swiss People’s Party, while the memory of Finland’s recent conflict with Russia makes the Finns party’s rapprochement with EU positions less costly in political terms.

In addition to this, one has to consider the huge wave of sympathy for the Ukrainians that the Russian invasion appears to have generated. Although populist radical right parties are often depicted as outsiders by the media – a definition they are happy to embrace, as it helps them distinguish themselves from established parties that they regard as corrupt – these are in fact parties often well rooted in their respective political systems and that have served in government in the past (with the exception of Flemish Interest). Naturally, considering the roots of these parties’ nationalist platforms, the fact that Ukrainian refugees are Europeans coming from a mostly Christian country makes the change of policy easier to sell to party members and sympathisers.

Radical right leaders are not extreme mavericks unable to read political events, despite being portrayed as such by many in the media. On this occasion, their willingness to set aside their unashamedly anti-refugee stance and avoid wasting political capital trying to turn the tide of sympathy for Ukraine is testimony to their ability to read the room and quickly adapt in the face of shifts in public opinion – even at the occasional risk of being called out for their past actions and statements. Indeed, adaptability and flexibility are apparent strengths of parties on the European radical right today and their opponents should not underestimate them.

This article originally appeared on the LSE Europe Blog and is reproduced with full attribution.

Daniele Albertazzi is Professor of Politics at the University of Surrey. He is the principal investigator of “The survival of the mass party: Evaluating activism and participation among populist radical right parties (PRRPs) in Europe”, funded by the ESRC (project reference: ES/R011540/1).

Adrian Favero is Assistant Professor in European Politics & Society at the University of Groningen. His research focuses on European integration, party organisation and intra-European migration. He previously held a postdoctoral position at the University of Birmingham.

Niko Hatakka is a Postdoctoral Researcher in Politics and Communication at the University of Helsinki. Currently he works in the Academy of Finland funded project ‘Media platforms and social accountability’. His previous postdoctoral affiliations include the University of Birmingham and the Centre for Parliamentary Studies at the University of Turku.

Judith Sijstermans is a Research Fellow on the ESRC funded project “A Family of Nations? Brexit, Devolution and the Union” at the University of Edinburgh, where she is affiliated with the Centre on Constitutional Change. She is also a Teaching Fellow at the University of Dundee and was previously a Research Fellow at the University of Birmingham.

Daniele Albertazzi Quoted in Politico Europe Article

Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator Prof. Daniele Albertazzi has been quoted in the Politico Europe article “Italy’s Matteo Salvini recasts himself as champion of Ukraine’s refugees”.

Written by the Rome based journalist Hannah Roberts, the news feature article explores League Party leader Matteo Salvini’s attempts to cast himself as a defender and would be rescuer of Ukrainian refugees, and to surreptitiously distance himself from previous statements and gestures that were seen as indicating support and sympathy for long serving Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prof. Albertazzi comments that:

“The obvious, instinctive approach for Salvini would be … ‘OK, they need help but let’s not let in the wrong people,’”

And as Roberts paraphrases “Salvini is under pressure from his rivals on the right, Brothers of Italy, which is gaining ground.”

“On this issue, [the League and rival populist radical right Brothers of Italy Party] are both anxious not to be outsmarted by the other,”

Roberts sums up Prof. Albertazzi’s assessment of the Leagues’ pivot on immigration as being “that when the migrant sea crossings from North Africa start again in the spring, the League leader will return to complaining about the arrival of economic migrants, with the advantage of being able to say that he is not against all refugees, just those unfairly abusing the system.”

Leaving Prof. Albertazzi to conclude:

“He [Salvini] knows that Christian and white refugees from Ukraine are considerably more acceptable to large numbers of Italians than young men crossing from Tunisia … He is being very smart. People have a short memory. Instead of fighting he is showing his nice side and next time he can go back to being nasty.”

To read the article in full visit the Politico.EU website.

Daniele Albertazzi and Donatella Bonansinga to Present on the Populist Radical Right’s Use of TikTok

Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator Prof. Daniele Albertazzi and the project’s former Research Assistant Donatella Bonansinga are due to present their research project on the populist radical right’s use of the TikTok social media platform at the 7th Prague Populism Conference.

The 7th Prague Populism Conference is taking place at Goethe Institute, Prague on the 16th and 17th May 2022 (for full details see the event’s Facebook page).

Confirmed speakers include: Hans-Georg Betz (University of Zurich), Donatella Della Porta (Scuola Normale Superiore), Andrea Petö (Central European University), Emilia Palonen (University of Helsinki) and Daniele Albertazzi (University of Surrey.

The abstract of Prof. Albertazzi and Ms. Bonansinga’s paper is:

Happy-Go-Lucky or Dancing with Wolves? The Populist Radical Right on TikTok Today.

TikTok, a prominently visual platform with a considerably young audience, has grown exponentially during the pandemic, and so has its political content. Launched in 2016, the app has now over one billion monthly users, and is increasingly deployed by political actors aiming to reach the next generation of voters before their political views are fully formed. Characterised by a combination of populism, nativism and authoritarianism, the populist radical right (PRR) has pioneered novel forms of communication through TikTok. However, to date there is no available academic analysis of the kind of content PRR actors disseminate via the platform.

Focusing on populist communication addressing issues that have been at the forefront of public debates in recent years, such as the pandemic and climate change, this paper identifies examples of visual de-demonisation by PRR leaders and parties, as they forge a likeable image for younger audiences that can counteract the negative portrayal they usually get in the mainstream media. It finds that – contrary to widespread assumptions linking radical communication with toxic rhetoric and the spreading of fear – positive and optimistic appeals play a significant role in how PRR actors adjust their communication to the needs of the medium. Conceptualised as a form of eudaimonic entertainment, positive appeals include inspirational cues that foster hope, communicate values and virtues, and underline the beauty of authenticity.

In this study, our expectation is that longstanding PRR parties will be more likely than new PRR challengers to adopt eudaimonic content, as they have a strategic interest in de-demonising their image to counteract years of negative coverage. To test this argument, we use a novel theoretical framework that captures visual de-demonisation and eudaimonic appeals, applying it to a combination of established and novel radical right parties and leaders, such as Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini on the one hand, and Eric Zemmour and Vox Spain on the other. While the former actors may be more established, the latter, albeit only recently emerged, have already managed to substantially affect political debates in their countries and are now seen as emerging forces to be reckoned with by their competitors.

The article will be the first to document the PRR use of TikTok, contributing to the literature analysing how their message develops and their communication strategies and electorates diversify.

Discussing “Right-Wing Populist Party Organisation Across Europe: The Survival of the Mass-Party?”

Populism in Action’s Prof. Daniele Albertazzi and Dr. Stijn van Kessel recently discussed the research findings presented in “Right-Wing Populist Party Organisation Across Europe: The Survival of the Mass-Party?” the Project’s Open Access Special Issue of Politics and Governance journal with Prof. Scott Lucas of EA Worldview

Their recorded discussion covered research published in the Special Issue, as well as what the project has uncovered about the organisation of populist radical right political parties in contemporary Europe generally.

You can watch their discussion here

Daniele Albertazzi Quoted in an Article by the FT’s Amy Kazmin

On 30th January 2022, Populism in Action’s Principal Investigator Prof. Daniele Albertazzi was quoted in an article by the Financial Times’ Rome Correspondent Amy Kazmin.

The article entitled “Draghi gains vital time for policy revamp after Italy re-elects Mattarella as president” explores the likely short to medium effects of Sergio Mattarella’s reelection as President of Italy.

Commenting on the implications of this development for the government of Italy Prof. Albertazzi said:

“The road ahead is going to be uphill, not downhill…. I’ve never believed that just because you are Draghi you can do whatever you like. He is in the hands of political parties. They have political power, and they are themselves divided — the right against the left, factions against factions. All of this is going to create chaos.”

You can read the full article here.

Populism in Action’s Research Fellows and Assistants Discuss Their Favourite Blog Posts

A key objective of the Populism in Action Project has been to inform non-academic expert and wider public understanding of the populist radical right phenomenon in contemporary Europe, with a particular focus upon internal party organisation.

Since 2019 our Research Fellows and Assistants have played a key role in doing this through social media, at events and appearances on old and new media alike. They have also penned numerous short and incisive articles and blog posts, not least for publication on the Populism in Action website.

In the post below they reflect upon this strand of our work and choose their favourite blog post, written for the project’s website:

Donatella Bonansinga (University of Birmingham) – Project Research Assistant 2021-

“How do populists respond to growing insecurities?”

Looking at Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France, this blog post remarked the complexity of the relationship between populism, insecurity and emotions. It pointed out that both populists on the right and on the left engage with narrations of insecurity, using an array of positive and negative emotional appeals such as fear, anger, pride and hope. In doing so, populists perform ‘emotional governance’ and help citizens make sense of reality via specific interpretative cues. I enjoyed writing this piece because the relationship between populism, insecurity and emotions is complex and multidimensional, however it can be misunderstood and downplayed as mere manipulation. To this extent, interdisciplinary research is vital to help us better understand how populists address the insecurities usually linked to their appeal.

Dr. Adrian Favero (University of Groningen) – Switzerland focused Research Fellow 2019-21

“How COVID Caused the Swiss Radical Right to Tie Itself in Knots”

I like this article because it both demonstrates how the populist right wing party SVP (Swiss People’s Party) reacts to an immediate problem and shows how they balanced being in government with acting as the opposition at times. The article is timely and provides insights into the larger area of right wing populism and the politicization of the Covid 19 crisis.

Dr. Niko Hatakka (University of Birmingham) – Finland focused Research Fellow 2019-

The Finns Party: Free Rein or Reining In?

This post summarises key findings from my fieldwork within the organisation of the Finns Party. The text describes how the Finns Party has adopted a mass-party-type organisational model that is complemented with online activism. Whereas establishing a geographically comprehensive and well-rooted organisation on the ground has provided stability and structure to the party, social media have allowed activists and party sympathisers to both boost and contribute to the party’s message on their own terms. This has not only provided the party with significant resources but also forced it to deal with repercussions that arise from not being able to enforce message discipline. The text can also be read as an extended abstract or an introduction to the full research published in Politics and Governance.

Dr. Judith Sijstermans (University of Edinburgh) – Belgium (Flanders) focused Research Fellow 2019-21

“Beyond Underrepresentation: Women’s Roles and Gender Politics in Flanders’ Populist Radical Right”

This blog seeks to add nuance to the discussion of the (lack of) women in the populist radical right. I consider not only descriptive gender representation but the substance of women’s activism and gendered/family policies. This blog highlights our project’s ability to dig beneath the headlines about the populist radical right. After the blog was written, I continued discussions with Vlaams Belang activists, asking explicitly about gender imbalances. Importantly, this forced me to be reflexive in my own methods. There are inherent barriers to engaging in academic research. Taking part in our interviews requires an hour of free, quiet, online time. Politically active women are likely to juggle party roles with jobs, caring work, and social/emotional labour. The demands of an extra hour, on top of these other responsibilities, may be prohibitive and this inhibits our ability to see and account for them in political research.

Dr. Mattia Zulianello (University of Trieste) Italy focused Research Fellow 2019-21

“Italy’s League: A Modern Mass Party”

This is my favourite blog post because it presented some initial insights from my 2-years of fieldwork on Salvini’s League. The blog post discusses the centralized nature of the party, which is pretty much grounded on the organizational principle of democratic centralism, like the old Bossi’s Northern League. Furthermore, the blog post highlights how Salvini’s League was able to modernize the mass-party organizational model by exploiting new technologies. This latter point was then explored in more detail in my article published in Politics and Governance where I conceptualised the continuous interaction between traditional and 2.0 activism in the League as a form of ‘phygital activism’.

Daniele Albertazzi Quoted in The Financial Times

On 24th January 2022 the Populism in Action Project’s Principal Investigator Prof. Daniele Albertazzi was quoted in an article by The Financial Times‘ Amy Kazmin, Davide Ghiglione, Silvia Sciorilli Borrelli and Ben Hall.

The article entitled “The Draghi dilemma: Italian presidential election risks turbulence” explores considerations in the lead up to the Italian Presidential election which was decided on 30th January 2022.

Prof. Daniele Albertazzi said:

“The situation is going to become messy…”

To read the article in full visit The Financial Times website here

Stijn van Kessel Interviewed by the Illiberalism Studies Programme

Dr. Stijn van Kessel the Populism in Action Project’s Co-Investigator was recently interviewed by the Illiberalism Studies Programme at George Washington University.

In a wide ranging discussion Dr. van Kessel shared his insight into how the reality of Brexit has shaped the attitude of populist radical right parties on the European mainland, some of the reasons for the complexities and nuances in such parties attitudes towards the EU, how parties of the populist radical right have managed to relatively successfully negotiate taking on governing responsibilities, and much more.

You can read the interview in full on the Illiberalism Studies Programme website.