CPAC VIII: Populism, Radicalism, and Democratic Backsliding

April 30, 2021

The 2021 CPAC will explore the effects, causes, and ramifications of populism, radicalism, and democratic backsliding. The invited speakers are Cameron Ballard-Rosa (UNC), Lenka Bustikova (Arizona State University), Tamar Mitts (Columbia University), Matthijs Rooduijn (University of Amsterdam), and Milan Svolik (Yale University). This event will be online due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cameron Ballard-Rosa (UNC)

“Economic Decline, Social Identity, and Authoritarian Values in the United States.”

Why does the contemporary backlash against globalization in the United States have such a substantial authoritarian character? We argue that sustained economic decline has a negative effect on the social identity of historically dominant groups. These losses lead individuals to be more likely to want to enforce social norm conformity—that is, adopt more authoritarian values—as a way to preserve social status and this effect is greater the larger the size of other groups in the population. Central to our account is the expectation of an interactive effect of local economic and demographic conditions in forging value responses to economic decline. The paper evaluates this argument using an original 2017 representative survey in the United States. We find that individuals living in relatively diverse regions in which local labor markets were more substantially affected by imports from China have more authoritarian values. We further find that the greater effect of globalization-induced labor market decline in more diverse areas is also evident for vote choice in the 2016 Presidential election.

Lenka Bustikova (Arizona State University)

“Radical Right Parties and Uncivil Society Groups: A Test of the ‘Complementarity Hypothesis’ in Ukraine”

Recent years have seen a rise around the globe not only in radical right parties, but also in radical right uncivil society groups. This study compares the support base and attitudinal correlates of support among these two manifestations of radical right ideology – one a party engaged in conventional politics and one a movement engaged in unconventional politics. Do they draw on the same supporters–are they complements? This paper examines the “complementarity hypothesis” and demonstrates that there is a one-way (but not two-way) complementarity between supporters of radical right uncivil society groups and parties. Uncivil society groups draw supporters from radical right voters, but radical right parties cannot count on uncivil society supporters. Further, while sociotropic evaluations and group hostility determine support for uncivil society, they do not influence support for radical right parties. The paper uses an original survey with list experiments conducted in Ukraine, covering over 2000 respondents.

Tamar Mitts (Columbia University),

“Banned: How De-platforming Extremists Mobilizes Hate in the Dark Corners of the Internet”

In recent years, the world has seen a rapid increase in the use of social media platforms by violent extremists. Hate groups espousing radical ideologies have been using online platforms to communicate, disseminate propaganda, and in some cases, plan violent acts. In response, social media companies have upped their efforts to take down content and prevent the spread of hate speech on their platforms. While these actions reduced the availability of extremist content on mainstream social media, little is known about what happens to suspended individuals after being deplatformed. This project sheds light on the effects of deplatforming among online communities affiliated with the far-right in the United States. Analyzing unique cross-platform data that includes information on individuals who have accounts both on Twitter (a mainstream platform) and Gab (a fringe platform favored by far-right extremists), I find that Twitter suspensions increase engagement with hate speech on Gab. I discuss several approaches that can help mitigate radicalization on fringe platforms.

Matthijs Rooduijn (University of Amsterdam)

“Affective polarization and the populist radical right: Creating the hating?” (with Eelco Harteveld, Philipp Mendoza)

Do populist radical right (PRR) parties fuel affective polarization? If yes, how and under which circumstances? Based on a comparative cross-country analysis covering 103 elections in 28 countries and an examination of longitudinal data from the Netherlands, we show that PRR parties occupy a particular position in the affective political landscape because they both radiate and receive high levels of dislike. In other words, supporters of PRR parties are uniquely (and homogeneously) negative about (supporters of) mainstream parties and vice versa. Our analyses suggest that these high levels of antipathy are most likely due to the combination of these parties’ nativism and populism – two different forms of ingroup-outgroup thinking. Our findings also indicate that PRR parties’ electoral successes, and to a much lesser extent their participation in office, can make these parties more disliked – but this only holds for supporters of mainstream left and green parties. Our findings imply that the consequences of the rise of the PRR are even more far-reaching than previously assumed.

Milan Svolik (Yale University)

“Voting Against Autocracy”

When and how do voters punish politicians for subverting democracy? We develop a conceptual framework that differentiates between three mechanisms: vote switching, backlash, and disenchantment. The first mechanism entails defection by voters from a party that undermines democracy to one that does not; the latter two mechanisms entail transitions between voting and abstention. We estimate the magnitude of each mechanism by combining evidence from a series of original survey experiments, traditional surveys, and a quasi-experiment afforded by the re-run of the 2019 Istanbul mayoral election, in which the governing party attempted to overturn the result of an election that it had lost. We find that backlash and disenchantment serve as a democratic check as much as does vote switching, with each mechanism arising from a different segment of the electorate. Both persuasion and mobilization are viable tools for curbing the authoritarian tendencies of elected politicians.