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People are waiting for the vote at a polling station during German federal elections on September 24, 2017
Image: Getty Images/J. Schlueter

Populist sentiment rises across the world: study

Alistair Walsh
September 6, 2019

Germany remains one of the few bastions bucking a growing trend towards populism, according to a survey. For many respondents, the economy is rigged in favor of the rich and they want a strong leader to change it.


People around the world believe the political system is rigged against them, a survey by Ipsos revealed on Thursday, highlighting a growing trend towards populism globally.

Levels of political distrust and a desire for strong leaders who are willing to break the rules mirrors the political zeitgeist surrounding the election of US President Donald Trump and the British decision to leave the European Union.

Read more: Entertainment TV makes you less intelligent, more susceptible to populism

The new Ipsos survey of 18,000 people in 27 countries, last undertaken six months ago, came to three major conclusions:

Most people feel left out of the "normal order" of life in their country:

  • 70% said the economy is rigged to favor the rich and powerful (up 1 percentage point).
  • 66% felt that traditional parties and politicians don't care about people like them (up 2 points).
  • 54% agreed that their country's society is broken (down 4 points).

Populist sentiment is widespread:

  • 64% said their country needs a strong leader to take it back from the rich and powerful (up 1 point).
  • 62% felt that local experts don't understand the lives of people like them (up 2 points).
  • 49% say that, to fix it, their country needs a strong leader willing to break the rules (unchanged).

Nativist views are common

  • 60% say employers should prioritize hiring people of their country over immigrants when jobs are scarce (up 4 points).
  • 60% disagree their country would be better off if it let in all immigrants who wanted to come there (up 1 point).
  • 43% agree that immigrants take important social services away from their country's "real” nationals (up 4 points).

Germany bucks the populism trend: Germany was one of just three countries in which less than half of respondents felt a strong leader was the answer to their political shortcomings. It was joined by Japan and Sweden, which nonetheless had the biggest increase in populist tendencies.

Although the survey didn't establish a working definition, many researchers use Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde's definition of populism. Mudde dubs populism "an ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogeneous and antagonistic groups … and which argues that politics should be an expression of the (general will) of the people."

Read moreGerman filmmaker Volker Schlöndorff says far-right populism a threat to culture

Political violence

"The data confirms the serious political upheavals we have seen in recent years," says Dr. Robert Grimm, head of political and social research at Ipsos in Germany. "Deep ideological differences are openly lived out in many Western European countries and, if necessary, are also settled with politically motivated violence."

"On the other hand, many Germans see no solution in a strong leader, probably also because of their profound experience with totalitarian regimes," Grimm continued. "Thus, in an apathetic political culture, the country is driving from one unwanted coalition to the next, without concretely seeking a new social contract.

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