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The electoral strategies of a populist candidate: Does charisma discourage experience and encourage extremism?

Gilles Serra

Journal of Theoretical Politics, 2018, vol. 30, issue 1, 45-73

Abstract: I model an election between a populist candidate with little government experience and high charisma and a mainstream candidate with much government experience and low charisma. Taking a step back in time, I also model the career choices of this populist candidate: he must consider how much governing experience to acquire before running for high office, and then he must decide how extremist his campaign platform should be. The model finds two major trade-offs that are unfortunate for the median voter: candidates who are attractive in terms of their high charisma will be unattractive in terms of their low experience and high extremism. The model also finds that popular discontent, coming from an economic or political crisis, makes an inexperienced outsider more likely to win an election with an extremist agenda; this helps explain the recent ‘rise of populism’ identified by several authors around the world. This theory is also able to explain numerous empirical findings: I connect the model to the literature from different academic approaches (behavioral, comparative, and institutional) and different geographical regions (the United States, Latin America, and Europe). Special reference is made to four prominent outsiders: Donald Trump, Hugo Chávez, Alberto Fujimori, and Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Keywords: Charisma; democracy; elections; experience; populism (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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