Democracy Erodes From the Top: Leaders, Citizens, and the Challenge of Populism in Europe
By Larry M. Bartels
Bartels, a leading analyst of electoral democracy and public opinion in the United States, turns here to a central question in European politics: Do right-wing populist parties pose a threat to democracy, moderate politics, and multilateral cooperation? His point in this important book is simple yet powerful. Public opinion doesn’t support the notion advanced by journalists and policy analysts that financial crises, mass migration, an undemocratic EU technocracy, warfare, and so-called wokeness have undermined popular support for moderate democratic politics. Ordinary Europeans support democratic moderation now as much as they did 20 years ago. In fact, Europeans have more positive attitudes toward migrants, are more trusting of democracy, and perceive the EU more favorably than they did in previous decades. Yet these trends do not mean democracy is safe. Rather, the public is in truth a bystander to politics, as democracy erodes from the top. It is the machinations of political elites that have led to the decline of democracy, multilateralism, and tolerance in countries such as Hungary, Poland, Serbia, and the United Kingdom. To eliminate the incentives for this type of behavior, political institutions must be reformed—a subject Bartels could take up in another book.