Birmingham leads ¤1 million analysis of rising populist threat to democracy

University of Birmingham experts are leading a ¤1 million drive to understand the rise of populism across Europe as the threat posed by right-wing political parties encourages mounting opposition to immigration and Euroscepticism.

With rising populism often portrayed as one of the most pressing challenges for the future of national and EU democracies, researchers will explore the roots of populism by examining political, economic and sociological factors.

“Challenges for Europe" is funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and will explore the socio-economic and cultural roots of European populism. Experts at five European universities will analyse existing data and new survey results across 10 European countries during national elections occurring before the 2024 EU elections.

Researchers at Birmingham join counterparts at the Universities of Münster (consortium coordinator) and Exeter, as well as VU Amsterdam and La Sapienza (Italy) to explore the political landscape in the UK, the Netherlands, Italy, Germany, Spain, Romania, France, Sweden, Hungary and Poland.

Project lead Dr. Lorenza Antonucci commented: “Our project links socio-economic explanations such as labour and financial insecurity to cultural reasons like the rise of authoritarian values and disappearance of cultural norms that underpin populism’s rise.

“We will look beyond the grievances of ‘globalisation and capture the widespread socio-economic malaise affecting ‘the squeezed middle’, whilst investigating the role of welfare state reforms and labour market policies. We aim to identify factors that ‘push’ and ‘pull’ individuals towards and away from populist voting.”

The project includes a number of high-impact initiatives to help EU institutions and European states address populist demands, guided by the research questions such as:

  • How do socio-economic and cultural triggers of populist voting change across countries and the political spectrum - left-wing and right-wing populism?
  • How do populist parties’ agendas influence populist voters and vice versa?
  • How are ‘push’ factors of populist voting transformed into ‘pull’ factors, which move voters away from populist voting?

The interdisciplinary cross-national team will isolate single issues and responses to help create an EU policy toolkit that will inform policy work around insecurity and work conditions of the European Pillar of Social Rights (EPSR).

Research will be cutting-edge - analysing existing probability data from the European Social Survey and the International Social Survey Programme alongside new primary data that will be collected through Voting Advice Applications (VAA) - online information tools that will help researchers understand how voters respond to political parties’ positions.


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