Counterpoint’s long-term programme of research and advocacy on European populisms investigates this continuing trend.
The project ‘Recapturing Europe’s Reluctant Radicals’, supported by the Open Society Foundations, asks what kind of risks generate support for populist parties? What risks do these parties pose in political, policy and economic terms? And what hope is there to tackle them?
Counterpoint works on populism not only because it is an important political trend, but also because it is a powerful lens for exploring the health and solidity of a country’s democratic institutions. Populism reveals much about how responsive and open a country’s political institutions are, how confident the citizenry is in its political system, and how accessible the society is to outsiders.
The research on this topic has tended to privilege the more radical aspects of these movements—both in terms of ideology as well as tactics and supporters. While preoccupation with radicalisation of this sort is understandable, it has tended to lead away from studying and countering XPPs effectively.
This project focuses on the reluctant, ‘soft’ support for xenophobic populism – those voters who turn to XPPs but are not committed supporters. These are the ‘reluctant radicals’. The project aims to understand what motivates these voters – and what mainstream parties need to do to win back their support.
We focus on the Reluctant Radicals because they are the people whose votes are fuelling the growth of XPPs in Western Europe to levels that make them problematic in policy and institutional terms, and because they are the voters whom mainstream parties can most easily bring back.
‘Recapturing Europe’s Reluctant Radicals’ is a three stage project.
The first stage was completed in September 2012. It used quantitative analysis to investigate the socio-demographic characteristics and attitudes of the reluctant radicals across a series of European countries. This stage culminated in a report for mainstream politicians and policymakers on the motivations of the reluctant radicals and what they can do to address xenophobic populism. Our focus for the first stage was xenophobic populism on the right, but the project as whole looks at populism on both left and right.
The second stage of the project aims to explore and understand the country-specific contexts from which the reluctant radicals have emerged. Counterpoint has commissioned in-depth studies for ten countries, written by high-level experts, including academics, journalists and distinguished public figures. The studies aim to draw a picture of the local cultures, societies, feelings and perceptions, to complement our profiles of the reluctant radicals.
As part of the second stage of the project, we are currently launching the pamphlets across Europe. We have also partnered with the online magazine Open Democracy to release English excerpts of the pamphlets in advance of the full publications.
For the third stage of the project, building on the previous two stages, Counterpoint will partner with organisations and institutions in Finland, France and the Netherlands to explore (through face-to-face interactions) the political realities and attitudes of domiciled citizens. This will enable us to better understand the social wholes into which the reluctant radicals fit. Drawing on this detailed picture, Counterpoint and our partners will prepare informed policy recommendations for reintegrating the reluctant radicals into mainstream politics.