Right-wing populism: Staying or going?

Devyn Shea (TheLorian)

Throughout the world, right-wing populism has been on the rise over the past decade. Populism is defined by Merriam-Webster as “a member of a political party claiming to represent the common people”. Right-wing populists are usually to some degree against immigration and are more nationalistic in their approaches to many political issues. They also notably tap into people’s fears to win support. 

 Since the recession occurred over a decade ago, the world’s political climate has taken a shift to the right. In the U.S., the Tea Party, made up of a whole variety of Libertarians and Conservatives, was formed due to increasing worries over the country’s fiscal situation. By 2015, five years after the start of the Tea Party Movement, the Republican Party had been dominated by members who were elected and were a part of the Tea Party Movement. In 2016, however, Tea Party favorites such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio lost the Republican nomination for president to Donald Trump, a then businessman with right-wing populist campaign platforms and rhetoric. The party has now, to an extent, been dominated by those with the same ideology as Mr. Trump. 

In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been in control since 2010. He has made his tenure fairly authoritarian by cracking down on democratic institutions across the country. He has enacted socially conservatives policies against members of the LGBTQ+ community and has also limited the freedom of the press in Hungary. He is against immigration to the country and has focused on implementing traditional values. In Hungary’s neighboring state of Austria, the country elected Sebastian Kurz as chancellor, who had acted similarly to Orban on many social issues while also focusing on decreasing spending and advocating for a more fiscally conservative government. Sweden, a fairly liberal country on the political spectrum, has had a notable right-wing populist political party, called the Sweden Democrats, dominate a chunk of the politics of the country. This rise in right-wing populism in a liberal country stems from the influx of migration to the country over the past decade.

France and Italy have had major right-wing populist influence in their countries over the past several years. Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party earned roughly 34 percent of the vote in the presidential election in 2017 and won majorities of the vote in northern France. In Italy, right-wing populist parties dominated a right-wing coalition in their elections in 2018, a coalition that won roughly 37 percent of the nationwide vote. Finally, in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro reversed a continued trend of left-wing politicians winning presidential elections over the past two decades. Bolsanoro won a majority of the support from Brazilians in a run-off election between him and the left-wing candidate. This was primarily due to decades of corruption of the dominating left-wing party as well as a bad economic situation. 

Now, however, there may be a transition of right-wing populist power. Firstly, Donald Trump lost last year’s presidential election and although some of his policies may live on, his election loss can be seen as a rebuke of not only himself but certain right-wing populist aspects. For right-wing populists, as with many populists, their success usually lies in their leaders. In Sweden, however, there still seems to be consistent support for the Sweden Democrats at roughly 20 percent nationally.

For Italy and France, there seems to be a possible shift. Italy’s support for Lega, the most notable right-wing party (also populist), has collapsed over the past year or so to 20 percent support in polls. Their leader, Matteo Salvini, who is a major part of the success of the party, is on trial for preventing a migrant boat from docking in 2019. He could face kidnapping charges and up to fifteen years in prison. A political rival of his, Giorgia Meloni, and her more right-wing nationalist party is gaining popularity while Salvini’s party is dropping in popularity. In France, Marine Le Pen and her National Front Party have not been in power yet but are in head-to-head polls against the president; Le Pen has ten more percent support than nearly five years ago in these polls.

Austria’s Sebastian Kurz has recently resigned over corruption charges, giving a major blow to the right-wing movement of his party. In Hungary, all the opposing parties regardless of ideology have united to oppose Viktor Orban and his party. The elections in Hungary are next year and polling shows a close race. Brazil’s presidential election is next year. Jair Bolsanoro’s approval rating has dropped to under 30 percent and he is losing in run-off election polls against the former left-wing president known as Lula, who recently got out of jail. Bolsanaro could also face some sort of legal accountability for his poor handling of COVID-19. 

Canada, an arguably center-left nation has had a notable political party arise called the People’s Party. The People’s Party is led by Maxime Bernier, a former Conservative Party member. In 2019, the party had a poor first time election showing of less than two percent, but this year the party won nearly five percent, showing a growing enthusiasm for the party. Chile will hold an election for president on Nov. 21, and in the past few weeks the right wing populist candidate, Jose Antonio Kast has risen to first place in the polls. His nearly thirty percent national polling is considerably better than his seven percent showing four years ago. Kast is also leading runoff election polls, making it a larger possibility he could win. 

Overall, right-wing populism is here to stay and even rising in some nations, while the close-knitting of the movements to their leaders could cause the movements to collapse in others, as can be seen in Brazil and Hungary. With elections next year across the world, it will be determined if right-wing populism is still strong or if new movements will replace it.

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