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Populism in Times of Donald Trump

Populist parties, rallying against the establishment, have shaken up the traditional political order in many countries around the world in recent times. The populist label is often loosely applied to a wide variety of political phenomena on both the left- and right-wings of the political spectrum, including Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders in the United States, Hugo Chávez in Latin America, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Marine Le Pen, Viktor Orban, Thierry Baudet, and the Podemos movement in contemporary Europe. But what does populism really mean? Where does the term come from historically? In what sense is populism a helpful categorization? Can it be only applied to political parties or also to citizens?

This studio explores populism, both as a concept and as a phenomenon in the world’s democracies. In the studio, students will study populism by analyzing its meaning, its causes and effects in a systematic and comparative way.

Group assignment

In the second half of the studio the ball is in your court and you will work on a project in small groups. In groups of 3-4 students will choose one of the four proposed projects that address the challenge of populism in very different ways.

  1. Bad for business? Consultancy report for a multinational on how to deal with populism
  2. In populists’ shoes: Develop the election strategy for a populist party.
  3. Populism on the street: Measuring citizens’ degree of populism
  4. Bad for diplomacy? Diplomatic report for a country (e.g. the Netherlands) on populist rule in a third country (e.g. US, Hungary)

All groups write a written report of ca. 3000 words excluding references. Additional documentation such as videos, blogs, or websites is strongly encouraged.

The report should be about 3,000 words.


  • Maurits J. Meijers (Political Science)
  • Andrej Zaslove (Political Science)
  • Tim Houwen (Radboud Honours Academy)

Description of the meetings

The meetings take place on Monday evenings. The meetings start at 18:30 hrs. until 21:00 hrs.

Meeting 1. September 21 - What is Populism?

  • General introduction of the topic and the Honor’s studio
  • Examining populism from a conceptual and historical perspective


  • Mudde, C. “Populism: An Ideational Approach” in The Oxford Handbook on Populism, edited by C. Rovira Kaltwasser, P. Taggart, P. Ochoa Espejo and P. Ostiguy, Oxford University Press.
  • Moffitt, B., & Tormey, S. (2014). Rethinking populism: Politics, mediatisation and political style. Political studies62(2), 381-397.

Meeting 2. September 28 - Causes of Populism

  • Why do citizens support populism?
  • Is there a populist perfect breeding ground?
  • Do individuals support populist left and populist radical right parties for different reasons?


  • Mudde, C. (2007) “Demand-side. In search of the perfect breeding ground” in Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Cambridge Press.
  • Mudde, C., & Kaltwasser, C. R. (2013). Exclusionary vs. inclusionary populism: Comparing contemporary Europe and Latin America. Government and Opposition48(2), 147-174.
  • Van Hauwaert, S. M., & Van Kessel, S. (2018). Beyond protest and discontent: A cross‐national analysis of the effect of populist attitudes and issue positions on populist party support. European Journal of Political Research57(1), 68-92.

Meeting 3. October 5 - Is populism a threat to democracy?

  • Is populism a threat to democracy?
  • Is populism a threat to liberal democracy?
  • Is populism a democratic corrective?


  • Abts, K., & Rummens, S. (2007). Populism versus democracy. Political studies, 55(2), 405-424.
  • Kenny, P. D. (2019). “The Enemy of the People”: Populists and Press Freedom. Political Research Quarterly, 1065912918824038.
  • Huber, R. A., & Schimpf, C. H. (2017). On the distinct effects of left-wing and right-wing populism on democratic quality. Politics and Governance5(4), 146-165.

Meeting 4. October 12 - Studying Populism: Social Science Methodology and the Study of Populism

Discussion on how can we determine who is populist and who is not.

  • Discussion of methodologies used in the social sciences
  • Discussion on how we can study populism
  • Discussion on how we can measure populism among citizens and political parties


  • Akkerman A, Mudde C, and Zaslove A (2014) How Populist Are the People ? Measuring Populist Attitudes in Voters Comparative Political Studies 47(9), 1324–1353.
  • Meijers, M. J., & Zaslove, A. (2020). Measuring populism in political parties: appraisal of a new approach. Comparative Political Studies, 0010414020938081.

Meeting 5. November 2 - Populism and the 2020 US Presidential Elections

  • Discussion of the role of populism in the US elections
  • Dissection of the populism of Donald Trump (and Bernie Sanders?)
  • Discussion of populism and the COVID19-crisis.


  • Hawkins, K., & Littvay, L. (2019). Contemporary US Populism in Comparative Perspective. Cambridge University Press, 1-19.
  • Weyland, K. Populism’s Threat to Democracy: Comparative Lessons for the United States. Perspectives on Politics, 1-18.

Meeting 6. November 9 - Work and Feedback Session.

Students work in subgroups on their topic

Meeting 7. November 16 - Work and Feedback Session.

Students work in subgroups on their topic

Meeting 8. November 23 - Work and Feedback Session.

Students work in subgroups on their topic

Meeting 9. November 30 - Work and Feedback Session.

Students work in subgroups on their topic

Meeting 10. December 7 - Final Group Project Presentations

Presentation of group assignments


On November 3 we will attend the ‘Election Night’, an event dedicated to the American election which will be held in Lux Nijmegen.

Learning goals

  1. Students will be able to place the concept of populism in a historical perspective
  2. Students will be able to discuss and evaluate different conceptualizations of populism
  3. Students will be equipped to develop a project independently on the topic of populism