Alienated Voters and Anti-Elitist Parties: The Mobilization of the Unheard Voices

This paper will be presented at the 2016 ECPR Joint Sessions

Anti-elitism has been considered one of the defining traits of populist parties. The claim that the people have been betrayed by an unresponsive set of institutions dominated by detached political elites lies at the core of the populist rhetoric. As a consequence, populist voting has been frequently considered a means for citizens to express discontent with the ruling elites. It is therefore not surprising to find numerous studies analyzing the relationship between generic attitudes, such as dissatisfaction with democracy or distrust in political institutions, and the vote for populist parties. In this paper, however, we focus on a more specific attitudinal orientation, namely, on external political efficacy, which directly captures individuals’ beliefs about the responsiveness of governmental authorities and institutions to common people’s demands. Moreover, we focus on a particular element of populism: the anti-elite rhetoric. We combine new data on parties’ degree of anti-elitism (from 2014 CHES) with a set of indicators (included in ESS-7) designed to capture citizens’ external efficacy to analyze whether inefficacious citizens are more likely to vote for anti-elitist parties. However, our interest goes beyond establishing a simple association between efficacy and anti-elite voting. We further explore how party systems are configured along the anti-elite and left-right axes, and whether the ideological position of anti-elite parties intervenes in the association between external efficacy and anti-elite voting. Moreover, we conduct an explorative multilevel analysis in which we explicitly account for the moderating role of the partisan supply. Our results suggest that the degree to which parties adopt an anti-elite discourse in the two ideological blocs moderates the extent to which anti-elite parties can mobilize externally inefficacious citizens.