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Populism in France, interview with Massimo Morelli

Professor of Political Science at Bocconi University, Massimo Morelli came at École Polytechnique on April, 25th, invited by the Department of Economics, in order to talk on populism in the world and in France

- In your paper “Populism: Protection Demand and Disinformation Supply” you say that there are many types of populism (from extreme left to extreme right) and that populism is one of the most frequent words we would hear these days in political debates. What could you say about the role of populism in the French political landscape?

Populism in France has now both left and right strong representatives, with common features that we emphasize in our work but of course also important differences, and with 41 percent total France is one of the most important countries in the world where to study populism.

The source of demand of populist policies as well as the motivation for parties and movements to enter in politics with populist platforms depend on economic insecurity. The studies claiming that economic variables do not count are simply wrong. They used inconsistent estimators by ignoring the turnout selection effects. Once you correct the methodology of estimation, economic variables become very significant  for the explanation of populism trends, on both demand and supply side.

Beside correcting the direct importance of economic variables, we show that even the trust and cultural variables (which also contribute significantly to drive populism) are influenced by economic variables, hence the sum of the direct effects plus the indirect effects through trust and attitudes induced changes make economic variables dominant.

France the perception is that many populist voters are driven by cultural threats or fear, but what we show is that even cultural threats and attitudes towards migration are significantly affected by economic insecurity.

- What is your opinion on the French election results? How would you explain the victory of Marine Le Pen / Emmanuel Macron?

An important neglected factor in France is the interplay between mobilization and turnout: (A) distrust in traditional parties makes non-extremists want to abstain, and if traditional parties betray their identity to try and imitate the populists on some dimensions they may cause even more abstension from their base. Hence the Macron strategy to be the champion Europeanist, going opposite direction, is the only one that can work in terms of reduction of abstension of non extremists. (B) Le Pen supporters are very stable in terms of participation rate, hence the forecast of march 10 and result on april 23 in terms of total votes were almost identical, but percentage of votes turned out to be lower than anticipated in march because of greater turnout  in the rest of the political spectrum, something that may again go down in the second round.

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