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Department of Comparative Politics

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How should we respond to populism?

With prestigious grant, professor tackles the challenge of the radical right.

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Grant winners
Sampol's Jonas Linde and Georg Picot were granted financial support from FRIHUMSAM, which will help develop their projects on respectively populism and the role of the state in wage regulation.

A UiB political scientist has won an important FRIHUMSAM grant to study problems posed by the rise of right-wing populism. 

Jonas Linde, a professor in the Department of Comparative Politics, was awarded the grant late last month. His was one of just 31 projects selected by the Norwegian Research Council’s Humanities and Social Sciences committee.

Linde’s project is called “Democracy in the age of populism.” It aims to explore how the growth of the radical right has fuelled political polarization and mistrust – and what can be done about it.

“Nobody knows when, or if, the wave of radical-right populism sweeping Europe and the U.S. will ebb out,” Linde says. “Neither do we know much about its consequences for the legitimacy of representative democracy.”

Linde says a debate has erupted over whether mainstream political actors should be responsive to populists’ concerns, or if doing so will undermine the values of liberal democracy.

Linde and his research team hope to help provide an answer. To do this, they will investigate four key questions:

First, do populist voters become more radicalized over time, developing views that are increasingly authoritarian, xenophobic and mistrustful of existing democratic institutions?

Second, in the face of such radicalization, do the opponents of populists undergo an equal and opposite radicalization? 

Third, might the resulting polarization diminish voters’ trust in their political opponents?

And finally, is this dynamic of polarization and mistrust moderated or exacerbated when mainstream parties try to be inclusive of radical-right voters?

The answers to these questions, says Linde, can serve as lessons for a broad range of actors – academics, politicians and journalists, among others – concerned with political trust and democratic legitimacy.

“By connecting the fields of populism studies and political support,” he says, “the project deals with questions that I think will be of actual importance for European democracy.”

But to get these answers, Linde says, “we need a lot of new data.”

That’s where the grant money comes in. A substantial portion of the project budget will go to data collection. Linde says his team will use not just large-scale cross-national surveys like the European Social Survey, but also survey experiments, panel survey data, open-ended survey questions, and online social media data.    

In this, he says, UiB’s Digital Social Science Core Facility, or DIGSSCORE, will be essential.

The grant will also make it possible to recruit a three-year post-doctoral researcher to SAMPOL.

The project will start in September 2018, when Linde returns from sabbatical at the University of Washington in Seattle. It will likely continue until the autumn of 2022.

The project team already includes SAMPOL scholars Stefan Dahlberg and Elisabeth Ivarsflaten, along with Andrej Kokkonen of Aarhus University and Eelco Harteveld, a post-doc at the University of Amsterdam.

Linde says his team is grateful to have been chosen.

“Of course we feel delighted that this project was awarded a grant,” he says. “We thought that we had a good application but at the same time the competition is very hard. This time we got lucky.”

Associate professor at the department, Georg Picot, also received funding for his project; “Bringing in the state: The politics of wage regulation and low-wage employment”.