6th Prague Populism Conference
Why the pandemic does not necessarily boost support for populist radical rights: The French case (Tuesday 18 May 9:30-10:30)
There has been a lot of speculations about the possible impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the electoral fortune of Populist radical Right Parties (PRRP). It could have a positive impact insofar as it increases fear, economic insecurity, anti-elites resentment, conspiracy theories, which are the usual ingredients of their success. It could turn against them if they do not appear able to manage the crisis effectively, whether in office or in the opposition. The available comparative studies (Bobba and Hubé 2021; Stern et al., 2021; Wondreis and Mudde 2019; Ivaldi and Mazzoleni0) show important variations from one country to another, depending on how severely they were hit by Covid, how the PRRP framed and politicized the pandemic, how the parties in office managed, and the political context in general. There is no mechanical unidirectional effect of the pandemic. After a quick overview of the evolution of the European PRRP, I shall focus on the French populist radical right. The Rassemblement national (ex Front national) is one the oldest established PRRP, and has been a model for many other rights in Europe, inventor of “the winning formula”. It took a new start when Marine Le Pen succeeded her father in 2011 and launched her “de-demonization” strategy. She achieved a record score of some 34% of the votes in the 2nd round of the 2017 presidential election, and for the coming 2022 elections, some polls for the first time see her as capable to beat Macron. A year ahead polls just give an idea of the balance of power. But this is an ideal situation to try and evaluate the impact of Covid-19 on her rising popularity and her electoral potential in 2022, all things equal. Drawing from survey data, I will show that the pandemic had positive as well as negative effects and that the 2022 presidential battle if far from being won by Le Pen’s daughter.
Participation Without Power: Activism, Community and Centralisation Among the Populist Radical
Right (Wednesday 19 May 9:30-10:30)
The 20th century saw the rise of political parties characterised by large memberships organised in
local branches. While it is now widely assumed that the era of these “mass parties” is over, several
Populist Radical Right Parties (PRRPs) are in fact still holding on to this organisational model: they
are present on the ground, focus on shaping people’s identities, and create communities of loyal
partisan activists. Furthermore, party organisation and the quality and type of activists have proven
to be important conditions underlying the success and failure of several of these parties.
Drawing on a large comparative research project (ES/R011540/1) funded by the UK’s Economic and
Social Research Council, the presentation will consider the role of personalisation and centralisation
among Western European PRRPs, and how party elites have reinforced their own power through
formal organisational structures and informal influence. While usually pyramidal, run from the
centre, and not necessarily providing many opportunities to members to shape their policies and
strategy, several PRRPs are however able to create closed communities of activists that their
representatives and members very much value. Hence the presentation explores a model of party
organisation that ultimately offers participation without power to party members, something that
does not appear to be seen as problematic within PRRPs, particularly by the members themselves.