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Populism And Civic Engagement – a fine-grained, dynamic, context-sensitive and forward-looking response to negative populist tendencies

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PaCE (Populism And Civic Engagement – a fine-grained, dynamic, context-sensitive and forward-looking response to negative populist tendencies)

Reporting period: 2019-02-01 to 2020-01-31

Across Europe, there is a rise of political formations that claim to challenge liberal elites and speak for the 'ordinary person' - formations that can be loosely categorised as 'populist'. Many of these formations have undesirable tendencies. These tendencies (e.g. denigrating an out-group) are not confined to populist parties but are often associated with them. The Populism and Civic Engagement project (PaCE), with others, aims to better understand and respond to these negative tendencies, to build upon the lessons of positive examples (such as the ‘pots and pans’ movement in Reykjavik), and hence play a part in constructing a firmer democratic and institutional foundation for the citizens of Europe.

PaCE is analysing, in detail, the type, growth and consequences of such parties and movements in terms of their particular characteristics and context. From this, it will analyse the causes of these and their specific challenges to liberal democracy. PaCE will propose responses to these challenges, developing risk-analyses for each kind of response, movement and transition. To this end, it will use complex simulations of political processes and attitudes to formalise our understanding and allow risk analyses of possible policies to be made.

Throughout the project, it will engage with citizens and policy actors, especially groups under-represented in public affairs, face-to-face and via new forms of democratic participation appropriate to our digital age to help guide the project and to comment on its outputs.

The project will develop new tools, based on machine-learning algorithms, to better identify, track and understand populist narratives. It will seek to apply what it has learnt to the design of online consultations and participatory tools. It will result in specific outputs aimed at the public, politicians, activists and educators – in particular participatory ‘policy labs’.

Finally, it will look further into the future, developing new visions concerning how different actors could respond to these kinds of developments and it will warn about longer-term trends.

Its overall objectives are:

1. Trace the historical growth and political consequences for the EU project and democracy of illiberal democratic, nativist, and antidemocratic parties
2. Study the general and the specific causes of the three modes of such parties (illiberal, nativist and anti-democratic) in European democracies – distinguishing between demand and supply side, internal and external causes
3. Study, propose and test policy-oriented responses to each of the three forms of populism.
4. Identify strategies for strengthening democratic values and practices, taking into account the role played by both traditional and social media and public opinion
5. Engage with stakeholders, especially groups under-represented in public affairs, particularly younger citizens, schools and local communities, in new forms of democratic engagement appropriate in our digital age.
Historical, Comparative Analysis
An analysis of the trajectory of populism from rising-fall, and on the comparative study of leaders' charisma. An analysis of 4 nativist parties that have enjoyed power as junior coalition partners. Plus 4 other case studies, with explanations for their rise and success. Reports on the Austrian FPO, the German AfD, the Italian Lega and (with TRI) on the French Front National. Collected data on the programmatic profile of parties based on content analyses and expert surveys, linked with attitudinal data of voters as well as additional data on the programmatic profile of parties. Also survey data that link populist attitudes with unconventional forms of political participation. Evaluated common explanations for the rise and success of populism.

An online catalogue on relevant data sources has been delivered and submitted-the EC platform. All international surveys that include measures of populism potential functional equivalents in 38 national election studies. Selected the Austrian case for the prototype simulation and provided secondary data from voter surveys, expert surveys on the programmatic positions of parties, and from a content analysis of media reports. An abstract, extendible pilot model of the interaction of voters and parties in a political landscape has been developed, then adapted for the Austria case study.

Narratives Analysis and ICT Tools
Common indicators, operations and definitions for populist narratives established: English, Slavic, German, French. Collated dictionary of populist, nativist, and antidemocratic expressions. Started to identify liberal counter-narratives. Constructed a dictionary from and analysed for populist narratives. Established a typology of populist narratives. Developed a coding tool for the AI algorithm. Developed algorithmic measure for identifying how populist tweets.

Causal, Policy and Future Analysis
Review of the impact of populist attitudes in three dimensions and feelings of loss of control. Report on the causal mechanisms of populist parties in Europe. Mapping these, with reference model enriched by alternative theoretical models of those causes and then evaluating their explanatory power with regard-the central cases of illiberal populist parties.
"The PaCE approach is to go for the development of tools and analysis first before seeking to translate these into policy recommendations or other outputs. The project is one year into its three year term, and significant progress has been made on the state of the art. A very brief summary of the main progress is as follows (this omits lots of smaller bits of progress):

1. A new analysis of populist and nativist parties has shown some of characteristics of these two differ in the extent they maintain power, what happens when in power and the routes they can take after. Also this refutes the idea that ruling populism may be a “corrective” to the shortcomings of democracy

2. New detailed data sets about the detailed voting patterns in several countries have been obtained, under special licenses. Some of these include links to individuals to judge how populist these are. This is painstaking work, since the permissions, checks and conditions are onerous.

3. Prototype agent-based simulations to capture the voting behaviour of individuals and their reaction to populism (starting with the case of Austria) have been developed.

4. An new analysis of populist online texts has been made, forming a database which can be used to train machine-learning algorithms to automatically identify populist narratives. This will hugely speed up the analysis of such texts enabling researchers to go beyond what can be achieved manually. In parallel to this a new automated measure of how populist tweets are has been developed and undergone preliminary testing.

5. New tools to address ethical issues and their management have been developed. An extensive analysis of the ethics of using AI to produce tools that allow the easy identification of populist messages has been undergone.

6. From the start there has been an active program of stakeholder engagement with the project running ""Policy Labs"" and other formats, to ensure input from the bottom up."
Project Logo
Picture of one of the Policy Labs in actrion