In a recently published article in Political Psychology, we show how and why public populist attitudes affect threat perceptions of global transformations such as climate change and migration, and global governance solutions to them. Contrary to received wisdom, our findings suggest grounds for cautious optimism about the potential to rally popular support for global governance solutions to global challenges.
Global social transformations such as climate change and migration increasingly determine our lives and, as such, democratic politics and policymaking. The inability of single nation states, still widely seen as the legitimate and natural tool for solving societal problems, to deal with such transformations has lent credence to the views of some citizens that political “elites” and transnational institutions are corrupt, treacherous, or incompetent. Indeed, numerous national party systems have been transformed as voters have increasingly coalesced around parties according to their perceptions of global transformations, with so called populist parties often gaining the most by highlighting the threats posed by global transformations.
Populist parties have been extensively studied, but less is known about the effects of public populist attitudes—beliefs that society is divided between a “pure people” and “corrupt elite” and that democracy is about expressing the former. Populist attitudes could affect the threat that people perceive as a result of global societal transformations because (1) they are beyond the control of “the people” and so a source of change, disturbance, anxiety and, therefore, societal threat and (2) their global nature may usher in global governance, such as binding treaties or cession of powers to supranational institutions, at odds with the will of the people and dependent on deliberation, compromises and technocracy, and so a threat to the expression of the popular will. Moreover, global transformations may be perceived as threats to distinct objects—cultural, economic, or moral—to varying extents.