Research with weak points "Populism is a very vague term"
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According to the Bertelsmann Foundation, more Germans represent populist views, especially in the middle of society. Political scientists, however, criticize – for example, that populism in the survey is considered only as a right-wing phenomenon.
PThe attitude of opulists in Germany is increasing – and not only in the political margins, but in the midst of society. That is what the Bertelsmann Foundation and the Social Science Research Center in Berlin are trying to prove.
According to Robert Vehrkamp, the Democracy Expert of the Bertelsmann Foundation and co-author of the study, the largest shifts in the political center are recorded in comparison to the 2017 survey: about every eighth voter settling in the political center has populist views. In the previous year it was about every ninth.
In general, the proportion of populist voters eligible to vote increased slightly compared to 2017 from 29.2 to 30.4 percent. According to the survey, almost every third respondent is therefore populist. The higher the level of education and income, the less widespread such political views. For the online survey more than 3,400 voters from Infratest Dimap were questioned about their political views in May and August this year. According to the study, populist-minded individuals are those who claim that they contain eight statements describing the fundamental dimensions of populism: anti-pluralism, anti-establishment attitudes and popular sovereignty.
For Lars Rensmann, political scientist at the University of Groningen, the title of the central study results with "the center of Germany becomes more populist" in the interpretation, however "misleading". "An increase of one to two percentage points is a slight departure from last year, and this should be pointed out."
The extremism researcher and author Florian Hartleb also sees the criteria of the research skeptical. "Populism is a very vague term, it is very difficult to scale." For example, the positioning "by popular sovereignty" is misleading. In a democracy violence starts with the people. And so it is legitimate to demand more direct democracy, Hartleb explains. The criterion should have been more clearly linked to a fundamental rejection of elites in the research to be considered as a category for populism.
Moreover, the migration problem was neglected in the study, criticizing Hartleb. He estimates that if this subject was asked more specifically, the percentage of populist people in Germany would be considerably higher. But is hostility against migration a characteristic of populism?
Yes, but only in the right spectrum, emphasized political scientist Frank Decker of the University of Bonn. "This is a mistake of this study because the authors identify populism as right-wing populism Many Link populists are migration-friendly." However, the research is not unanimous on this point. Rensmann argues that the majority of science distinguishes between the phenomena of nationalism and populism. The latter can construct "both left and right".
Despite the increased populist attitudes that they observed, the authors of the research emphasize that a good two-thirds of Germans are not or not explicitly populist. Seven out of ten voters say they do not "choose" the AfD. For the other parties, this aversion is therefore at a much lower level: in the Greens this is 31 percent, in the Union and FDP each 29 percent. The SPD receives the lowest rejection scores (23 percent) from all parties.
According to the study, politics can counter the trend towards more populism by focusing more on socio-political issues. So social policy must be understood as a "bridge topic and mobilization scarcity", according to the research. As in the run-up to the federal elections in 2017, the demand for "more Europe" remains an opportunity for mobilization that has not yet been exploited by all parties. But even this analysis is controversial. "That is wishful thinking from the Bertelsmann Foundation," says Hartleb. "More Europe does not mobilize, especially with a Eurosceptic agenda, much has been won in European countries in previous elections."
The claim that the political center has become more populist must also be treated with caution. "This is certainly popular as an explanatory approach, but if that is true, I dare to doubt it: many voters simply want an alternative to the visionless coalition – this does not necessarily mean that the center will become more populist."
Rensmann also alienates the concept of the middle: the interviewees themselves have determined where they position themselves politically. "Maybe Alexander Gauland (AFD president, ed.) Would also position himself in the political center." The experience with such surveys shows that foreign and personal perception are often far apart. Before one can investigate the political center, it must first be clearly indicated where it starts and ends.