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Populism is on the rise and it can degrade democracy

There’s a widespread view that populism is on the rise, from the United States and Turkey to India and Hungary.

What is fueling this movement?

Populism is a political ideology that positions “the people” as a morally just, good group in society, in contrast with other people who are elitist and out of touch with society. Politicians such as former President Donald Trump have used this general approach to help propel their rise to power – and maintain their popularity among their supporters.

Trump, for example, addressing a conference in Budapest in April 2024 described what he and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán were engaged in as an “epic struggle to liberate our nations from all of the sinister forces who want to destroy them.” These “sinister forces” typically include everything from the media and international organizations to mainstream science and immigrants.

Orbán, the populist prime minister of Hungary since 2010, often blames international groups such as foreign nonprofits for interfering in Hungarian politics and acting against the country’s interests. The European Parliament determined in 2022 that Hungary could no longer be considered a democracy.

In its most radical, authoritarian form, populism poses a threat to democracy. It polarizes societies and erodes trust in experts.

Populist leaders still hold appeal, as they promise to return power to the people. Yet they often deliver something very different from what they promise. They tend to worsen problems such as gender and ethnic inequality, without addressing the gap between the rich and the poor.

I have dedicated much of my career to analyzing populist movements, both as a politician serving in the Hungarian Parliament in opposition to Orbán’s regime and now as a