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Populism and Responsiveness

Sibylle Hardmeier

Subject Politics
Communication Reception and Effects » Communication, Politics and Elections

Key-Topics democracy

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405131995.2008.x


Populism and responsiveness are rather broad and messy concepts. They are not only used for scientific analysis but for political allegations as well. A simple and general definition of the two terms shows what holds the two concepts together: responsive refers to politics that are open to the electorate and respond to what the people want (Latin: responsum = response); populist refers to politics that attach great importance to people's opinions (Latin: populus = people). The two terms operationalize the sovereignty of the people, albeit with different connotations. Responsiveness, at least to some degree, is considered an essential element of representation, and thus of democracy. By contrast, interpretations of populism are in most cases not only highly charged but also negative. Only some authors find the sources of populist protest in the heart of the “democratic project” ( Canovan 2002 , 33) or treat the populist principle as an institutionalist feature which mainly determines direct democracy and therefore stands for a broader plebiscitarian transformation of politics. The proponents of responsiveness hold that this concept makes politics more representative , whereas populists criticize the nonrepresentativeness of politics. Populism is both a political catchword as well as an ambiguous construct in social sciences. Populism has an “awkward conceptual slipperiness” ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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