PACT – Populism and Conspiracy Theory.
The last two decades have seen the rise of populist movements all over the world. The four largest democracies – Brazil, Indonesia, the United States, and India – are currently governed by politicians usually described as populist by journalists and scholars. In Europe, too, populism is no longer restricted to the margins of politics and society. Populists are governing, among others, in Hungary, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Finland, and Norway, sometimes alone, sometimes as part of coalitions. Even where they are not (yet) officially in power, they have grown stronger and shape the political agenda, as the Brexit campaign or discussions about the refugee “crisis” in Germany and other countries show.
Conspiracy theories have also significantly gained in visibility and impact over the past twenty years, and they have been playing a major role in the debates about populism. The two phenomena are obviously connected. Populist leaders – from Trump to Maduro, and from Orban to Bolsonaro – regularly employ conspiracist rhetoric, and as number of studies have shown, the followers of populist parties and movements tend to believe more in conspiracy theories than others.
However, the exact relationship between populism and conspiracy theory remains understudied. We know comparatively little about the significance of conspiracy theories for specific populist movements; we do not know yet if conspiracy theories are always part of the populist repertoire, and it remains to be seen if conspiracy theories are, as is sometimes claimed, more relevant to right-wing than to left-wing populism.
Funded by a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council, PACT will provide a robust account of the relationship between populism and conspiracy theory.