Measuring populist attitudes across nine European countries / by Flavio Azevedo

Populism is on the rise in Europe. In the past decade - with the emergence of more volatile electorates and protracted global economic crisis - radical and right-wing populist parties have garnered unprecedented political power at national and supra-national elections. While UKip, Front National in France and Party of Freedom in the Netherlands account for most of the news headlines, in Hungary and Poland the government is spearheaded by populist representatives. In order to understand this phenomenon, we focus on the measurement and empirical evaluation of populist attitudes, which are thought to explain – at least, partially – predilections for Populist parties. As of recent, a number of prominent studies have converged on a set of six items which have been to gauge this latent construct. Two original items were developed and added to this scale as a mean to validate and further examine populist attitudes. In 2015, as part of the LIVEWHAT project, the ensuing scale was used to survey populist attitudes across nine European countries (n = 18370). The objective of this article is twofold. Firstly, while drawing insights from both classical test and item response theories, we assess the scale’s psychometric properties – e.g., internal consistency, dimensionality, reliability and validity – as well as item’s difficulty, discrimination and information. Secondly, cross-national differences and similarities are discussed. Results indicate that the nine surveyed are roughly divided into two sub-groups. While Italy, Spain, Greece, France and Poland showed comparable high levels of populism endorsement, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany and the UK consistently exhibited lower levels of it. Moreover, while the scale was conceived to measure across the entire continuum of populist attitudes, its items were found to be informative only at a limited range of the theorized latent construct. Implications to the construct- and predictive-validity are discussed, as well as recommendations for future operationalizations.

[Stage: Conference paper - presented at Team Populism & MPSA 2016]