Authors Cas Muddle and Cristóbal Rovira Kaltwasser describe populism in their book, Populism: a very short introduction, as “a thin-centered ideology that considers society to be ultimately separated into two homogenous and antagonistic camps, “the pure people” versus “the corrupt elite,” and which argues that politics should be an expression of the general will of the people.” When a majority of a country’s citizens feel that their government’s actions and decisions no longer represent their own interests, they look for a candidate that openly opposes the elitists in government in favor of the “common people.” Each country defines “common people” differently but, in general, this silent majority considers themselves the “pure people” who exhibit the values of their country the best.
Oftentimes, scholars and journalists try to use a similar loose definition of populism to group the populist movements occurring in North American and Europe with the movements and leadership gaining momentum in regions like the Middle East and Southeast Asia. However, trying to define every movement under one general definition is not accurate. While all populist movements are centered around a designated leader speaking for the silent majority, the Western view of populism is usually seen as extremist left and right-winged leaders that either steer towards a fascist or socialist ideology depending on how the “common people” identify. This view is not appropriate beyond the West where countries are not ruled exclusively by political parties on the spectrum but instead by questionable elections, military coups, and de facto government leaders.
For the purpose of this study, populism will be defined and grouped into three different types to avoid excluding populist ideologies in the East. Some countries in this study will have more than one type of populism because multiple factors and characteristics could be applied to certain leadership.
The first type of populism defined by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change is cultural populism where the “common” or “pure” people are considered the native majority who target religious or ethnic minorities as the source of their country’s problems. While these ethnic or religious minorities do not have to be considered “corrupt elites,” the natives view these people as outsiders to whom the government should not support. Occasionally in cultural populism, minorities are used as scapegoats when a country experiences economic turmoil. Other people targeted include criminals who are seen as a threat to national security.
The second type of populism is known as socio-economic populism where the people are of the same socio-economic class, usually, the working class (middle class), and the supposed enemies to the country are big business holders, upper-class capitalists, and international companies. The working-class majority distrusts capitalism and “imperial” business ventures.
The third type of populism is anti-establishment populism where the majority are hard-working citizens and the “corrupt elites” are state-officials and old supporters of the country’s previous government who are now considered outsiders. This type of populism centers around a movement determined to rid the government of corrupt and “purge” those who were loyal to the old leadership.