Skip to main content

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

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - PaCE (Populism And Civic Engagement – a fine-grained, dynamic, context-sensitive and forward-looking response to negative populist tendencies)

Reporting period: 2020-02-01 to 2022-04-30

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

PaCE is analysing 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 these. Throughout the project, it will engage with citizens and policy actors, face-to-face and via new forms of democratic participation appropriate to our digital age to help guide the project. The project will develop new tools, based on machine-learning algorithms, to identify, track and understand populist narratives. It apply what it has learnt to the design of online consultations and participatory tools. It will produce outputs aimed at the public, politicians, activists and educators. It will look into the future, developing new visions concerning how different actors could respond to these kinds of developments. Its objectives are to:

* Trace the historical growth and political consequences for the EU project and democracy of illiberal democratic, nativist, and antidemocratic parties
* 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
* Study, propose and test policy-oriented responses to each of the three forms of populism
* Identify strategies for strengthening democratic values and practices, taking into account the role played by both traditional and social media and public opinion
* 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. We traced the growth of populism and nativism parties in a selected group of European countries, analysing their growth. It included some specific case studies, including: QAnon, Gilet Jaunes movement and the Pots and Pans movement in Iceland. It analysed the geographic, political, and economic explanations for populism and developed a new typology of parties. The data set that underlay the analyses was made publicly accessible. This work revealed what happens when populists or nativists achieve power. We produced a series of infographics to make the results of the project accessible.

Data, Risk Analysis & Simulation. The project identified and catalogued the public data that is relevant to the case studies and made this publicly accessible. This informed the goals and scope of the simulation. A prototype simulation was developed and critiqued. These discussions informed the search for further evidence to underpin the further development of the simulation tool. Considerable effort was required to obtain access to relevant data sets under controlled conditions. Also, a statistical analysis of the underlying risk factors was done. The simulation was then validated and then analysed. Thus enables the possible causal connections between individual behaviour and macro outcomes to be explored.

Narrative Analysis & ICT Tools. The project operationalised definitions of nativist, and populist narratives and then followed this up with a Hermeneutic Computational Narrative Analysis to identify these narratives. This fed into the development of machine learning techniques using the 'Common Crawl' sample of website material. The software to do this was tested and documented before being made publicly available. These results can be accessed on a public dashboard. Online experiments were performed to test the effects of selected narratives in online experiments, finding some important results in terms of rebutting populist accounts.

Causal, Policy & Futures Analysis. All the above were brought together in a wide-ranging analysis of the causes of such political movements in a model that involved both supply and demand sides. This and the other project results led to 16 policy recommendations, that have been widely disseminated aimed at a broad range of political actors. These would, we believe, increase the quality of democracy in Europe. To facilitate discussion concerning our joint political future, a range of 6 scenarios were produced and fleshed out into stories. The scenarios were packaged into a set of material for informing classroom discussion on issues about politics. This was enhanced with the production of an evidence-informed educational comic.

Dissemination & Engagement. 7 Democracy Labs were run in Italy, Iceland, Scotland, Spain, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria. These gave citizens a voice upwards to politicians and 'inwards' to inform the project itself. The discussion was focussed on the themes of COVID and government responses to the pandemic. This culminated in a European Democracy Lab that considered the outcomes of the national labs. A summary of citizen suggestions has been included as part of the disseminated recommendations. The lessons learned from doing these online were distilled into a series of templates to help others run similar. These were in parallel to other dissemination and engagement activities, including a final conference with 7 roundtables and 6 seminars.
The achievements and outputs of the project, of which we are particularly proud, include:

• A comprehensive analysis of populist parties, including a new extended typology of political parties, an analysis of their characteristics, causes, and what happens if they gain power
• New empirical research on the underlying risk factors, including on the importance of relative deprivation and clear differences between core and strategic supporters
• New data on populist parties in Europe, documented and made freely available to other researchers and summarised in an interactive infographic
• New experimental results on dealing with misinformation and misleading narratives, showing that rebutting these is not a waste of time
• 16 recommendations for policy makers and politicians coming out of, or confirmed by, research done in the project, being distributed to politicians and policy makers
• New open-source software tools to identify the emergence of populist issues, developed within the project and already being used elsewhere including in a public dashboard
• Cutting-edge, empirically-based simulation tool enabling the exploration of the co-evolution of voter attitudes, voter saliences, party policies and interaction network
• Face-face and online Democracy Labs across Europe: Italy, Iceland, Scotland, Spain, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria and Brussels. Lessons learned distilled into a guide for others
• Infographics and educational materials, including 7 infographics (+1 still in production) and an educational pack including a cartoon to provoke classroom discussion on the issues
Project Logo
Picture of one of the Policy Labs in action