Munich Personal RePEc Archive

Populism and the rule of law: the importance of institutional legacies

Kyriacou, Andreas and Trivin, Pedro (2024): Populism and the rule of law: the importance of institutional legacies.

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We apply synthetic control methods to a cross-country sample that includes up to 51 populist events ranging from 1928 to 2019, to explore the impact of populism on the rule of law. Populist governments are expected to undermine the rule of law because they seek to dismantle institutional constraints on their personalistic plebiscitarian rule. We find that, on aggregate, populist governments do indeed reduce the extent to which laws are impartially and equally enforced and complied with by public officials. However, we also document that their capacity to do so depends on how strong the rule of law is before they assume power. Specifically, populists pose a greater threat to legal impartiality, enforcement, and compliance if they face a weak rule of law legacy. Our results are robust to the consideration of a set of contextual variables that can potentially determine the capacity of populist governments to sweep away institutional constraints, different ways of measuring the rule of law, and variations in the definition of high or low rule of law legacies and samples.

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