What is Populism?

A big part of my paper is not only understanding the type of populism that is prevalent in Latin America, because populism exists all over the world. Populism has also existed for many historical periods, it dates back to the 30s in Latin America, and within the 19th century it existed in Europe. However, what is Populism? Is it a ideology? Is it a political party? Is it a social movement?

Yes and no is the answer.The challenge of defining populism is at least partially due to the fact that the term has been used to describe political movements, parties, ideologies, and leaders across geographical, historical, and ideological contexts. Indeed, “there is general agreement in the comparative literature that populism is confrontational, chameleonic, culture-bound and context-dependent” (Gidron and Bonikowski, 2013). Populism can be every one of these. Much of the discourse on populism is centered around the problems of conceptualizing populism. Populism can be left and it can be right, it can be liberal and it can be conservative. Populism can be Trump and populism can be Lula from the PT party in Brazil. One of the main problems is populism has been thrown around so much in many different contexts within political science, sociology, and economics.

Though Latin America has been regionally trending towards left-leaning populism for many decades, there has also been right-wing populists in Latin America in Mexico and Guatemala. Populism has occured in both institutionally strong countries, and in countries where institutions are weak and economically marginalized.


This has been the toughest part throughout this paper. Latin America is a different type of populism in a different context, and it is as recent as 1998 with the election of Hugo Chavez, and since then Latin America has been facing a major trend of populism. However, it is different populism compared to what we see in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world. How populism is used is also different. In Latin America it is not so much an ideaology, where in other countries it can be defined as an ideaology. But, in Latin America, populism is seen as a social movement and a political discursive style.

One thought on “What is Populism?

  1. Tj, I have always been amazed how passionate you are about Guatemala! Your passion for this country goes beyond the research and lands on the Soccer field! I hope you would take off from here for your next pursuit of PhD. I experienced your enthusiasm about this paper last night. I think you should consider Guatemala as one of your study area of comparative politics! All the best!

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