Is the global tide turning on political populism?


The election of US President Donald Trump and Britain’s shock decision to leave the European Union rattled the political intelligentsia and reminded people around the globe of the might and momentum populism can bring to political campaigns.

It’s been a big year for political enthusiasts. The election of US President Donald Trump and Britain’s shock decision to leave the European Union rattled the political intelligentsia and reminded people around the globe of the might and momentum populism can bring to political campaigns.

But despite what some commenters would have us think, voting behaviour is not set in stone. Already around the globe people are pushing back against populism.

On 7 May, the French pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron won a presidential victory over the far-right Front National candidate Marine Le Pen. Macron, 39, took 66 per cent of the vote, to Le Pen’s 34 per cent. Le Pen’s defeat was a relief for many concerned by her hard-line policies on immigration and “Frexit”. Macron’s La République en Marche – which didn’t even exist at the start of 2017 – also looks to have captured almost three quarters of the 577 seats in France’s national assembly as Working Life goes to print.

Over in the United Kingdom, the snap election called by Prime Minister Theresa May backfired, with the Conservative Party winning just enough seats to govern in coalition with the Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, though cooperation is anything but assured. May, instead of increasing her majority, has been forced to cobble together a minority government and now faces the prospect of negotiating Brexit amid speculation she’s not up to the job. As with France, pundits had long expected the wave of last year’s populism to mean an easy election for May (particularly given recent terror attacks in London and Manchester) but the exit polls demonstrated that the commentariat’s take on public opinion is still out of kilter with reality. In fact, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn’s personable campaign was a hit with undecided voters and young people, and the terror attacks look to have undermined, rather than reinforced May’s moral mandate to govern.

Sarah Parry, a PSA organiser originally from South Wales was hoping to see a change of government: “We need proper funding for public services, and I don’t think the Tories have delivered on that,”

“The engagement and excitement that Jeremy Corbyn brought to the debate and the resulting increase in Labour voters was very heartening. I hope we’ll see some of that energy during our election later this year to improve our underfunded public services in New Zealand.”

While the British public may not have delivered a decisive blow for the Conservative Party, it’s clear that politicians will need more than ‘key messages’ to sell any kind of hard Brexit to a society that seems to be moving away from populism, and back to the politics of care and community.

Other election results this year

  • Aleksandar Vucic won 54.9 per cent of the vote in Serbia’s April 2 presidential election, securing a five-year term as Serbia’s president. Vucic was formerly the country’s Prime Minister and is the leader of the Progressive Party. 
  • In Ecuador, socialist Lenin Moreno won the closely contested presidential election with 51.16% of the vote. Former conservative presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso called for a recount due to the tight margin, but the final results backfired, with Moreno gaining an additional 143 votes.
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won re-election in May with 57 per cent of the vote. He will serve another four years in the post.