A Trump supporters before Trump's speech at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, January 2016.
Joshua Roberts / Reuters

The lead package of the November/December 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs, available on ForeignAffairs.com tomorrow, deals with the rise of populism. To complement the individual articles, we decided to ask a broad pool of experts for their take. As with previous surveys, we approached dozens of authorities with deep specialized expertise relevant to the question at hand, together with a few leading generalists in the field. Participants were asked to state whether they agreed or disagreed with a proposition and to rate their confidence level in their opinion; the answers from those who responded are below:

The populist surge in advanced industrial democracies will continue to grow stronger over the next decade.


Full Responses:

KOEN ABTS is a researcher and part-time lecturer at the Centre for Sociological Research and the Institute of Social and Political Research at the University of Leuven.

Agree, Confidence Level 8

The transformation of organized modernity towards liquid modernity is only beginning. The dissociation of collective identity, interests, and power of the classic forms of integration—mostly based on social class and national identification—is resulting in a call for new total signifiers with a crucial appeal of “we, the people” as the most attractive, but still very empty, signifier of change.

CARLO INVERNIZZI ACCETTI is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the City University of New York (City College).

Agree, Confidence Level 5


PIERPAOLO BARBIERI is Executive Director of the Greenmantle advisory firm and senior associate at the Applied History Project at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8

The backlash against globalization embodied by populists will continue both in the United States and EU, while Brexit is bound to be a more complicated process than is currently assumed.

SHERI BERMAN is Professor of Political Science at Barnard College, Columbia University.

Agree, Confidence Level 8

Populists feed on democratic dysfunction. As long as democratic elites and institutions in advanced industrial democracies remain unable or unwilling to tackle the myriad challenges facing their societies, we should expect populism to remain an attractive political option. Based on the depth of the social and economic challenges facing the advanced industrial work and the track record of democratic elites and institutions over the past decade or more in dealing with them, it is hard to be optimistic that populism will fade from the scene any time soon.

MARK BLYTH is Eastman Professor of Political Economy at Brown University.

Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 10

For this not to happen there would have to be a very large compression of the income distribution. Wages would need to grow faster than the underlying rate of GDP growth for an extended period of time. In a world of long and low for as far as we go, that's not going to happen. It would also help if the top end of the distribution actually paid some taxes. But that's not going to happen either.

JEFFERSON COWIE is the James G. Stahlman Chair in the Department of History at Vanderbilt University.

Agree, Confidence Level 8

I suspect it will not grow a lot stronger but will continue to be a powerful outlet for those feeling dispossessed. It seems inevitable that those who feel left behind in the combination of cosmopolitan politics and global economics will continue to fight back in a myriad of ways. Ethno-religious nationalism is likely to be a refuge for those feeling angry and unmoored in the swirl of global events for years to come. The more it becomes a battle between cosmopolitans and nationalists, however, the more the complexity of the issue gets lost. The way forward is to address the real problems in economically neglected areas without giving legitimacy to—or further fueling—backlash populism.

OMAR G. ENCARNACION is Professor of Political Studies at Bard College.

Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8

Inequality is the fuel of populism. So rising inequality around the world, but especially in Latin America and the United States, will likely translate into greater appeal for populist leaders.

PAULINA OCHOA ESPEJO is Associate Professor of Political Science at Haverford College.

Agree, Confidence Level 8

RICHARD FONTAINE is President of the Center for a New American Security.

Agree, Confidence Level 7

After this most unusual presidential campaign, many hope to look back at the populist forces unleashed in 2016, wipe their brow, and say “goodbye to all that.” Perhaps no one wishes to get back to the basics of American politics more than the foreign policy elite and the party establishments. And yet this year may well be not past but prologue.

The sources of America’s populist surge—economic displacement stemming from globalization and automation, the rapid pace of social change, resistance to large-scale immigration, and a sense among the working class that tomorrow’s opportunities are scarcer than any time in memory—these will not disappear anytime soon. Even amid aggregate economic growth, the populist forces that both fed and fed off of the Trump and Sanders campaigns remain visceral. And the two parties lack good answers to many of the legitimate concerns shared by those in a populist mood.

Nor, of course, is the populist phenomenon unique to the United States. Countries as diverse as Australia, France, Hungary, and the United Kingdom are seeing the rise of nativist, protectionist and reactionary political actors, often aided by social media and the fragmentation of traditional news sources. 

If populism is rising at a time of American and global economic growth, it seems certain to expand even more during the next inevitable downturn. At the same time, politicians in a number of advanced democracies have set a template for achieving power outside the traditional constraints of party and ideology.

The urgent task is to take seriously the legitimate concerns of those who feel left behind in their own countries, and to explore policy approaches that will enhance the opportunities for all. Otherwise, the wait for the good old days of traditional politics – in America and across the world—will be long indeed.

ARTHUR GOLDHAMMER is an American academic and translator based at the Center for European Studies at Harvard.

Neutral, Confidence Level 6


PETER A. HALL is Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies at Harvard University and a Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics.

Agree, Confidence Level 7

In my view, we are seeing a fundamental realignment in the developed democracies in which parties on the center-left depend increasingly on middle-class support while major segments of the working class turn to populist parties and politicians (on both the radical right and left). Rising economic prosperity would take the wind out of the sails of populism but it does not seem to be likely in the coming years.

ANN-CATHRINE JUNGAR is Associate Professor at Södertörn university and Director of Studies of the Baltic and East European Graduate School.

Agree, Confidence Level 7

The populist surge continues in Europe, as new political parties make it into parliament (Germany) and more established parties successfully maintain their electoral support. The present populist parties have set in place efficient party organizations and undertaken processes of moderation in order to appeal to a broader electorate. Their electoral support is however likely to be conditioned by whether they assume governmental responsibility as the incumbency effect seems to be larger for populist parties. Mainstream party adaptation to populist core policies (anti-immigration and EU) can have opposite effects: The electoral support of the populist parties decreases as the supply of these policies increases OR the populist parties preserve, or even increase their support as their previously contested policy-position are legitimized. Since voting on populist parties is related to strong anti-establishment views, the latter scenario seems to be the case in Europe of today. Even though the established parties have taken more restrictive anti-immigration and EU-critical positions after the economic crisis 2008 and the refugee crisis in 2015, this has not prevented the growth of populist parties. On the contrary.

CRISTÓBAL ROVIRA KALTWASSER is Associate Professor at the School of Political Science of the Diego Portales University in Chile.

Agree, Confidence Level 8

Left and right wing populist forces will continue to exist and grow in many advanced industrial democracies. The key question is how mainstream actors will react to the challenge.

MICHAEL KAZIN teaches history at Georgetown University and is Editor of Dissent. He is the author of the forthcoming book War Against War: The American Fight for Peace, 1914–1918.

Agree, Confidence Level 9

Until and unless the discontent that gave rise to this surge are addressed in a convincing way, most voters will remain frustrated and angry at “the establishment.” That has always been true with populist uprisings throughout history.

SEBASTIAN MAZZUCA is a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University’s Academy for International and Area Studies.

Agree, Confidence Level 7

ROBERT C. MCMATH is a historian and Dean of the Honors College at the University of Arkansas.

Agree, Confidence Level 8

We are speaking here of populisms of the right. I believe that they will continue and possibly grow stronger in part because there is very little on the left (populist or otherwise) to counter the right-wing populist and neo-fascist appeal for the hearts and minds of aggrieved working people.

PANKAJ MISHRA is an essayist and novelist, and a recipient of the 2014 Windham–Campbell Prize for nonfiction. His most recent book is From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia.

Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 9

YASCHA MOUNK is the author of Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany. He is a Ph.D. candidate in Harvard University’s Government Department and a Fellow at the New America Foundation.

Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8

The populist surge will continue for two reasons. First, the underlying causes—migration, economic stagnation, a deep feeling of insecurity—are unlikely to subside. And second, the rise of the populists leads to vicious cycles in many places: Establishment parties find it increasingly difficult to form ideological cohesive political coalitions, or to pass needed reforms. Eventually, the populists' claim that establishment parties are inefficient and indistinguishable becomes true.

CAS MUDDE is Associate Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia.

Agree, Confidence Level 7

Although populism overall will grow, it will not be in all countries, and some individual populist parties will decrease and even disappear.

MITCHELL A. ORENSTEIN is Professor of Central and East European politics in the Slavic Department at University of Pennsylvania.

Strongly Agree, Confidence Level 8

People are tired of neoliberal economic policies and the inequality they have caused. They are also angry about immigration and other signs of globalization, the weakening of various protections they had in the past, and look to stronger nation states to solve these problems.

CHARLES POSTEL is Associate Professor of History at San Francisco State University.

Agree, Confidence Level 7

The nationalist right, characterized by anti-immigrant, xenophobic, and racist politics, has been gaining strength on both sides of the Atlantic. In Europe, Marine Le Pen and other nationalists call themselves “populists” because they defend the social contract of state protections for those deemed within the nation. In the United States, it takes the form of a conservative white nationalism that seeks to shred most of the social contract. Donald Trump is just the latest manifestation of these politics that have come to dominate the Republican Party. There is every sign that this is gaining strength, whether Trump wins the White House or not.

PROF. DR. STEFAN RUMMENS is Associate Professor of Moral Philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy of the University of Leuven in Belgium.

Agree, Confidence Level 7

The populist surge results from the fact that traditional politicians are not sufficiently responsive to the true needs and concerns of voters. This lack of responsiveness, in turn, reflects the systematic loss of power of the traditional politicians. In the United States, they are increasingly constrained by plutocratic dynamics. In the EU, they have increasingly ceded power to technocratic governance networks. These evolutions are likely to continue over the next decade and will trigger ever stronger populist reactions.

REIHAN SALAM is Executive Editor of National Review.

Agree, Confidence Level 7

In the United States and other advanced market democracies, the conventional reading is that we have seen a populist surge among "incumbents"—working-class whites or, more generally, older native-born voters who fear a loss of cultural primacy and/or economic status. However, it is not difficult to imagine the locus of populist energy shifting from this population to rising constituencies, for example, working-class second-generation communities that represent a rising share of electorate on both sides of the Atlantic.

WOLFGANG STREECK is a German economic sociologist and Emeritus Director of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne.

Agree, Confidence Level 8

Predictions are always difficult, especially if they are about the future.

CARLOS DE LA TORRE is director of international studies and professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky, Lexington.

Agree, Confidence Level 8


NADIA URBINATI is Professor of Political Science at Columbia University.

Neutral, Confidence Level 4

I resist making predicaments on the future in politics as sometimes things change quite abruptly. Moreover I have some problems with the term “advanced industrial democracies” because many of the so-called advanced democracies are post-industrial, and the decline of jobs because of this is a factor in the growth of populism among the working classes or lower middle classes.

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