Tuesday, November 21, 2017

After the Spanish crisis, should the academic literature about populism be re-written?

Until very recently, it was usual among political scientists and commentators to say that Spain was relatively free of populist parties. That was before the constitutional crisis triggered by the attempts by Catalan secessionists to unilaterally declare independence. Of course, for those who had been witnessing the sustained pro-independence campaign in the recent past, the crisis and its populists features were no surprise. For example, an otherwise very interesting article by Inglehart and Norris based on empirical evidence that includes Spain, has no mention of the Catalan issue. It argues that one of the characteristics of populism, beyond nativism, is the rejection of representative democracy and the checks and balances that accompany it, and a preference for pebiscitarian mechanims. This is clearly present in Catalonia. It has to be said that it also mentions as usually accompanying populism some characteristics that accompany populism in some countries, but probably not in Spain and Catalonia: the cultural rejection by relatively old and not highly educated white males of the values of cosmopolitism. The authors of this article chacraterize populism as a dimension (endogenously obtained using factor analysis, which depends on the original variables being used) that goes from liberal cosmopolitism to racist reactionarism. This makes it difficult to analyze the Catalan/Spanish case. For example, when they plot parties from all European countries in a two dimensional graph with left to right in the horizontal axis and reactionary to cosmopolitan in the vertical one, the Spanish parties are in an almost perfect diagonal, with Podemos in the bottom left and the Popular Party in the top right. That is, in Spain, it would seem that populism is correlated with being right-wing. According to this, Spain would have only one dimension in practice. In the article they say that they classify as populists all those parties that score higher than a threshold as cultural reactionaries, but then in the list of populist parties in Europe they include Podemos, which if I read correctly, in the two-dimensional graph scores very low as reactionary (actually, it is the Spanish party with a lowest score). However, Podemos clearly satisfy the condition of favouring direct instead of representative democracy, and other features of populism such as neglecting the long run impact of their policy proposals. Moreover, in the two-dimensional graph, two centrist parties that were created to raise the flag of Spanish nationalism against Catalan nationalism, UPyD and Ciudadanos, score just average in terms of populism (precisely because populism is defined according to variables that are probably irrelevant in Spain). In this two-dimensional graph there are two Catalan political parties, ERC and CiU, the first close to Podemos and the second close to the Popular Party in the graph. However, these two parties have governed in coalition in the Catalan government and have been those in charge of the unilateral attempt to declare independence. There is a lot of work to be done to include the Catalan case in the analysis of populism. There will be no shortage of useful material.

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