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Concentration of power and Populism's Rise in America: evidence from recent US elections

Mitoko, Jeremiah (2021): Concentration of power and Populism's Rise in America: evidence from recent US elections.

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What explains the recent rise of undesirable populist mobilization in US politics? In this paper, I examine the hypothesis that the rise of undesirable populist politics is related to the increased concentration of power on the US president. After presenting the main theoretical arguments, I use Cooperative Congressional Election Study (CCES) survey data from the 2008, 2012 and 2016 elections to explore whether perceived power structure can explain the rise of populism. I find that more concentrated power is indeed linked to clusters of undesirable populist mobilization. That is, concentrated power is associated with political mobilization based on constructed cleavages (e.g. identity such as race, religion, ethnicity, gender, shared history, region, social symbols or language) rather than structural cleavages (e.g. class, economic goods, education, rights or security distinctions). The most significant policy implication of the paper is the insight that efforts to ameliorate populist politics, if accompanied by more concentration of political power, will be counterproductive.

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