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Carsten Wegscheider, Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser & Steven M. Van Hauwaert (2023) How citizens’ conceptions of democracy relate to positive and negative partisanship towards populist parties, West European Politics, 46:7, 1235-1263


Although scholars emphasise the contentious relationship of populist forces to (liberal) democracy, less attention has been paid to whether this extends to those who support or oppose populist parties. This article utilises a public opinion dataset from ten Western European countries to analyse how citizens’ conceptions of democracy relate to the behavioural intention to vote for or against populist parties. The empirical analysis shows that positive and negative identification with populist parties is driven by different understandings of democracy: While individuals who are less inclined to liberal democracy but more to direct democracy and authoritarian forms of rule are more likely to sympathise with populist parties, the opposite understanding of democracy predicts opposition to both left-wing and right-wing populists. These findings demonstrate that citizens with positive and negative partisanship towards populist parties are divided in their interpretations about both the conceptual meaning and the normative functioning of democracy.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.