Right-Wing Populism under Majoritarian Conditions: A Comparison of Support for Brexit and Trump

Graduation Year


Publication Date

Spring 2018


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Much of the early literature on right-wing populism in advanced democracies suggested that PR electoral rules offer an advantageous opportunity structure for the emergence and success of populist radical right (PRR) parties. By extension, scholars have assumed that, even where demand is ripe for a populist surge, majoritarian institutions will act as a bulwark against the influence of the PRR. The recent success of the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom and the election of Donald Trump as US President challenge that orthodoxy. If those events are in fact majoritarian expressions of right-wing populist success, then support for Brexit and Donald Trump should be accounted for through models already articulated in the general literature. Recent studies suggest that those most displaced by the combination of economic and cultural changes associated with post-modernism feel that they have been “left behind.” These voters have a sense that they are not recognized, valued, or integrated into their societies. They tend to view society, the economy, and politics as being in a state of decline and are particularly vulnerable to populist promises to “take the country back” or “make the country great again.” Marshalling data from two different surveys, this study finds that those who do not feel socially recognized and maintain anti-immigration sentiments are the most likely to support Brexit, while those in the US that view society in a state of economic decline, live in rural areas, and identify as born again Christians are the most likely to support Trump. These findings are consistent with the literature and indicate that those who feel left behind are the most likely to offer their support for right-wing populist leaders and movements, even in majoritarian structures.


Political Science

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