fbpx Compensation, Austerity, and Populism | Harvard Kennedy School


  • Jeffry Frieden


December 6, 2019, Paper, "The existence of comprehensive social policies to compensate those who might be harmed by integration is widely seen as an important precondition for public support for economic and political integration in western Europe. However, many western European countries reduced spending on income maintenance after 1990. In countries hard hit by the sovereign debt crisis, there have also been significant cuts to social services. We evaluate the impact of levels of social spending on public support for populist parties. We also evaluate the impact of austerity measures on support for such parties. We examine a panel of 187 elections from 1990-2017 and analyze pooled cross-sectional data from eight waves of the European Social Survey. We find evidence that populist parties fare worse where countries spend more on social support, and where spending has not been reduced from historical levels. On the other hand, where countries spend less on income maintenance, and/or have decreased spending from earlier levels, populist vote shares are consistently higher, and the likelihood of supporting populist parties greater. This relationship holds when controlling for a range of individual and macroeconomic factors, including occupational and educational characteristics, unemployment, economic growth, and immigration rates. The growing strength of populist political parties is rooted in long-term economic and cultural changes, but appropriate social policies may moderate their appeal."

Non-HKS Author Website - Jeffry Frieden