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How Eastern European Populism is Different

Only in Europe’s post-communist east do populists routinely beat traditional parties in elections. Of 15 Eastern European countries, populist parties currently hold power in seven, belong to the ruling coalition in two more, and are the main opposition force in three.

WARSAW – In 2016, the United Kingdom’s Brexit referendum and Donald Trump’s election to the US presidency created an impression that Eastern European-style populism was engulfing the West. In reality, the situation in Western Europe and the United States is starkly different.

As political scientists Martin Eiermann, Yascha Mounk, and Limor Gultchin of the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change have shown, only in Europe’s post-communist east do populists routinely beat traditional parties in elections. Of 15 Eastern European countries, populist parties currently hold power in seven, belong to the ruling coalition in two more, and are the main opposition force in three.

Eiermann, Mounk, and Gultchin also point out that whereas populist parties captured 20% or more of the vote in only two Eastern European countries in 2000, today they have done so in ten countries. In Poland, populist parties have gone from winning a mere 0.1% of the vote in 2000 to holding a parliamentary majority under the Law and Justice (PiS) party’s current government. And in Hungary, support for Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz party has at times exceeded 70%.

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