Emerging evidence shows that populist support in Europe may be waning. A YouGov survey found that fewer people agree with targeted statements meant to measure populist beliefs .
Populism, according to Cinar and other researchers , is a belief system which espouses anti-elitism and takes a Manichean worldview, organizing populists and their opponents into moral saviors and ill-intended evildoers respectively. However, different strains of populism pick different enemies. Left-wing populists make a division between the economic elite and the common people, whereas right-wing populists target partisan opponents, ethnic minorities, and other outgroups. Populist leaders such as Marie Le Pen, Victor Orban, Andrezj Duda, and others across Europe have tended to be right-wing populists.
Scientists behind the study found that there was “a clear pattern of decreasing support for populism” in the 10 countries surveyed. Populism has seen rapid growth as a political force in Europe, evidenced by the rise of support for populist parties in national elections from 7% to greater than 25% over the past 20 years . These parties have risen to the forefront of national conversation in many EU countries.
Support for populist beliefs such as the view that “my country is divided between ordinary people and the corrupt elites who exploit them” decreased from 61% to 49% in France, and saw similar decline in Germany (54%-46%), Spain (70%-65%), Poland (73%-63%), Denmark (29%-15%), Italy (65%-54%), Sweden (42%-36%), and the UK (58-54%) .
Political Sociologist at the University of Amsterdam and expert on populism Matthijs Rooduijn remarked that the survey across 22 countries and totaling 24,000 voters showed that there had been a “clear drop” in preference for populist sentiments from 2019 to 2021, when the voters were first and last surveyed. While the survey showed that voters were tending towards more moderate and less populist views on average, “the small, very vocal group of people who vote for populist radical right parties” may have become more radical. And though there have been concerns about the growing prevalence of conspiracy theories as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Rooduijn stated that the pandemic likely had a reinforcing effect on trust in science and, to a certain degree, government.
But does this mean that populism is on its way out of Europe? The enduring presence of populist national leaders such as Victor Orban and Andrezj Duda, as well as their political parties, suggests otherwise.
While the study gives evidence that populism may have already peaked and may start to fall out of favor, populist leaders retain firm support from their parties and supporters, and where they have ascended to government, are secure in their positions as well. Take Victor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary and leader of the Fidesz party, which had such strength of voter support that it won enough seats in Parliament to amend the constitution and begin implementing its purported anti-pluralist, anti-immigration, ethnonationalist views . Orban and Fidesz have seen continued electoral success over the years, despite mixed economic outcomes and the pandemic. The case of Hungary, and other nations which have elected populists such as Poland, may lend credence to arguments for populism’s continued survival in Europe. Nevertheless, the waning support in populist beliefs suggests a potential for political transformation at the national and continental levels. Henley, Jon. “Support for Populist Sentiment Falls across Europe, Survey Finds.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 18 Nov. 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/nov/18/support-for-populist-sentiment-falls-across-europe-survey-finds.  Çinar, Ipek, et al. “Presidential Rhetoric and Populism.” Presidential Studies Quarterly, vol. 50, no. 2, 2020, pp. 240–263., https://doi.org/10.1111/psq.12656.  “Revealed: One in Four Europeans Vote Populist.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 20 Nov. 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2018/nov/20/revealed-one-in-four-europeans-vote-populist.  See 1  Krekó, Péter, et al. “Anti-Muslim Populism in Hungary: From the Margins to the Mainstream.” Brookings, 4 Nov. 2020, https://www.brookings.edu/research/anti-muslim-populism-in-hungary-from-the-margins-to-the-mainstream/.