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Policy and Populism: Explaining Support for the Radical Left in Contemporary Western Democracies

GOODGER, EDWARD,HARVEY,WILLIAM (2021) Policy and Populism: Explaining Support for the Radical Left in Contemporary Western Democracies. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (PhD Thesis) - Accepted Version


Defined by stridently redistributionist economic policies that challenge mainstream economic norms in many Western democracies, radically left-wing political actors have risen to prominence in many such countries. Despite their newfound prominence, the radical left remains understudied relative to their radical right counterparts. In my voter-level analysis, I test two common explanations of radical left support. First, the ‘policy-proximity’ account, which suggests radical left support is the result of proximity between voters and these actors on policy dimensions. I examine this with three plausibly relevant policy dimensions: economics, cultural policy, and migration policy. Second, the ‘populism-based’ account, which suggests the radical left draws support from populist voters attracted by their challenge to established political parties.
I test both these accounts in three case studies: Germany, the US, and the UK. I draw upon survey data which includes voters’ support for the radical left, their policy preferences on the policy dimensions, and their populist attitudes. Additionally, I use research designs which enable me to more confidently rule out ‘persuasion effects’ arising from pre-existing electoral support of voters. Furthermore, simultaneous examination of both the policy-proximity and populism-based accounts controls for possible confounding between them.
I find little evidence supporting the populism-based account in all three case studies. Policy-proximity results are more nuanced. German case findings generally conform with the policy-proximity account; however, I am least able to deal with persuasion effects here. I deal with persuasion effects more in the US case; however, US case findings commonly challenge the policy-proximity account. Finally, in the UK case I use panel data to rigorously deal with persuasion effects when examining changes in Labour Party support as this party shifts to the radical left under Jeremy Corbyn. I find that policy-proximity explains relative magnitude of shifts in Labour support but cannot explain pronounced positive shifts in this support across ideological groups. Overall, across the three cases, I find some support for the policy-proximity account; however, there are aspects of radical left support which policy-proximity does not explain. Consequently, future research is needed to continue to investigate support for these political actors.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Radical left, political behaviour, populism, spatial theory of voting
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Government and International Affairs, School of
Thesis Date:2021
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:07 Dec 2021 13:20

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