Nation-Status: How Nationalist Anxieties Fuel Asian Populisms

Iza Ding, University of Pittsburgh
Dan Slater, University of Michigan

Definitions of populism typically include anti-establishment sentiment and a reformulation of the nation as the virtuous set of people being poorly served by that establishment. This paper argues that nationalist sentiment rather than anti-elite sentiment is the key driving force behind populism in Asia and beyond. Survey data suggest that electoral support for populist leaders is not robustly correlated with distrust of elites and the institutions they inhabit, such as parliaments and political parties. Rather, populist sentiment seems to be more solidly grounded in nationalist resentments. Yet different types of nationalist status-anxieties find populist expression in diverse ways. Whereas nativist sentiments fuel right-wing populism in cases like India (as well as non-Asian cases such as the United States, Hungary, and Poland), resentment toward neocolonial domination has helped bring strongman-style populist leaders to power in the Philippines and Thailand. We provisionally extend our theory across regime types by discussing how authoritarian populism in Xi Jinping-era China and Sukarno-era Indonesia has drawn heavily upon narratives of nationalist resurgence and restoration. From weak clientelist democracies to the strongest authoritarian regime in the world, historically grounded anxieties over “nation-status” powerfully inform and influence the pugnacious style and confrontational substance of populist politicians.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 252. Asian Populisms in a Comparative Mirror