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Anarchy in the UK (and Everywhere Else): The Ideological Roots of Populism

This briefing paper sheds new light on the recent upsurge of populist movements shaking Western democracies, finding that populism is underpinned by a distrust in institutions.

Mirko Draca, Director of the Centre for Competitive Advantage in the Global Economy (CAGE), suggests the traditional “left-wing” and “right-wing” divide is insufficient to navigate the increasingly turbulent and polarised political landscape.

Instead, Draca argues that the key dividing line between groups of voters should be understood as between “anarchists” and “centrists” tied to personal beliefs.

Draca and his colleague Carlo Schwarz have analysed over two decades of survey results measuring the underlying values of voters across 17 countries in Europe and North America.  Values surveys, looking at attitudes to issues including divorce, prostitution and tax evasion, as well as their view of institutions including parliaments, trade unions, big business and the Press, can be a better indication of political persuasion than responses on party political questions.

Key findings:

  • Far from being a recent phenomenon, data show that the root causes of populist turmoil have been present in Western electorates since the 1980s.
  • These “latent” opinions have recently been mobilised. Draca suggests that technology, allowing voters to express those views more easily, may be one explanation. The economic shock of 2007/08 and subsequent “austerity” policies may also be a factor.
  • In the UK specifically, the paper finds that centrists who take a traditional approach to politics still make up a majority of voters. 33% of voters are classed as “liberal centrists” while 23% are “conservative centrists”, a total of 56%.
  • There are more “anarchist” voters on the right of politics than on the left, something that might suggest the Conservative Party will face greater turbulence than Labour in future.

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Mirko Draca
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