The Populist Puzzle: Economic Causes and Implications of the Populist Upsurge

Lasse Lauridsen Gerlich & Henning Alexander Soekeland

Student thesis: Master thesis


This study adds to the existing literature on the populist upsurge observed in the early twenty-first century. Using individual-level data from the European Social Survey on the voting behaviour from 25 European countries, we examine the underlying factors for the rising success of populist parties. In line with previous researchers, we use a 2-stage Heckman Probit approach to account for the two decisions voters face in an election: whether to participate and, conditional on participation, what party to vote. Our results highlight that economic insecurity at the individual level is a critical driver of the populist upsurge. We find that a one standard deviation increase in economic insecurity decreases the probability to participate in an election by 5.1% and, conditional on participation, increases the probability to vote for a populist party by 11.5%. Notwithstanding the relevance of economic insecurity for explaining the voting behaviour, our study also provides evidence that higher trust in politics can weaken the effects of increases in economic insecurity. Additionally, by examining the role of welfare regimes, we show that economic insecurity is a particularly critical factor in relatively equal societies.

EducationsMSc in Advanced Economics and Finance, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages135
SupervisorsSvend E. Hougaard Jensen