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Prof. Paul Taggart discussed the strategies of political populist in power.

09 March 2023
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Lecture in the University of Groningen by Prof Paul Taggart. with dr. Leonie de Jonge. Photo's: Marco in 't Veldt

What exactly happens when populist politicians move into positions of power? Which strategies do they develop? Do populists in office maintain their credentials, or do they moderate and abandon their political agenda? Are they able to change the political landscape?

Three strategies.

Populist politicians thrive on being in opposition as their ideas often challenge and oppose the establishment. They pretend to be ‘unpolitical’ and to be ‘outsiders’. Obviously this changes once the populists are in power. But how?

Prof. Taggart finds three strategies. First: once in power, populist moderate and move towards the political center and the establishment. Example is Berlusconi.

A second strategy is ‘institutional engineering.’ Leaders like Chaves, Orban and Erdogan go for a full scale political reform (mostly to stay in power longer than the constitution allows), and they try to get independent institutions like the judiciary into their power. They also try to curtail the media and hostile civil society, for example by getting their rich friends to buy those.

The third strategy is to keep behaving like when you’re opposition – of which Donald Trump is an example. He ‘kept campaigning.’ This minimizes the possibly for political cooperation with opposition, and there for not very effective, Taggart states. Trump succeeded in undermining the position of institutions by withholding them the means to function or to appoint people, so the institutions had many vacancies. But did Trump really make institutional changes?

'No', Taggart says: ‘To me, this proves American democracies resilience...’


After the lecture there was opportunity for questions, and there were many. During his lecture Taggart stated that populism is only possible in democracies, but there happened to be a PhD student in the audience, who’s topic is ‘Populism in communist China.’ This opened up a lively debate.

About Prof Paul Taggart

Prof. Paul Taggart is Professor of Politics at the University of Sussex. He has previously served as the Director of the Sussex European Institute, Head of the Department of Politics, and Deputy Head of the School for Law, Politics, and Sociology at Sussex. His research concerns comparative politics, and focuses primarily on populism and Euroscepticism, and more broadly on the domestic politics of European integration.

The lecture was chaired by dr. Léonie de Jonge , Assistant Professor in European Politics & Society at the University of Groningen


The lecture was organized by Studium Generale and the ‘Populism & Extremism’ Lab, which forms part of the Rudolf Agricola School for Sustainable Development, and REPS (the Research Seminar of the European Politics and Society Chair Group).

Last modified:09 March 2023 2.00 p.m.
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