Don't Blame The People

Don't Blame "The People"

Don't Blame "The People"

The word populism is on everyone’s lips. It’s blamed for bringing President Donald Trump to power and causing Brexit. Recent media and political commentary, including from senior leaders on the left and right, suggests that populism is growing in Canada too—even that it is transforming our politics.

What is populism?

Populism is a style of doing politics, and also a set of attitudes and beliefs about politics and society. The substantive goals of populists vary from country to country, but the basic message of populism is clear.

Populist leaders describe politics as a conflict between two groups, with elites (people with economic and political power) ruling over The Real People. Populists say that elites must be swept away, leaving government to be led by someone who truly represents The People. Only The People have legitimacy, and little or nothing should stand in the way of a leader who represents them.

Populism is sometimes conflated with other attitudes that frequently come with it, like anti-immigration sentiment, or economic anxiety. The relationship between these different sets of attitudes is important, but it’s also important to distinguish populism. Not every xenophobe is a populist, and vice versa.

So why is populism a problem for democracy? Isn’t democracy supposed to be about The People?

Yes, democracy is about all people and a healthy democracy requires much more than an election every four years. A healthy democracy requires regular engagement from a wide swath of citizens or it does, indeed, become a plaything of the elite.

This report uses new data to help answer the question: is Canada having a populist moment? And if so, why is that a problem?

To find out, read the report below or view as PDF.

The 360+ Series

In March 2019, the Samara Centre for Democracy released the 2019 Democracy 360, our biennial report card on how Canadians communicate, participate, and lead in politics. The Democracy 360 is partly based on data from the 2019 Samara Citizens’ Survey, conducted in English and French between January 16 and February 6, 2019, using an online sample of 4,054 Canadian residents over 18 years of age. Drawing from that survey, this report is one of several short data stories we discovered on particular issues and themes in Canadian politics. 

The 2019 Democracy 360 as well as the 2019 Samara Citizens’ Survey methodology can be found here



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The Samara Centre's Research Director, Mike Morden, sat down with Program Manager Yvonne Su to answer the question: is Canada having a populist moment? Watch their conversation below: