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Populism and Narratives of Social Mobility

Current Project

Project Management

Lorenz Meister

Project Period

November 1, 2023 - September 30, 2025

The rise of populism continues to shake numerous Western democracies, often leading to exclusionary or authoritarian tendencies (Mudde, 2004). This is evident in events such as the US Capitol storming in January 2021 and the attempted coup in Germany in December 2022. The destabilizing threat to democratic institutions across the EU and the US underscores the importance of understanding populism’s determinants and developing effective mitigation policies. Especially in the context of the climate crisis, populist actors block evidence-based policies to curb emissions.

While economic drivers of populism have been identified, including trade, financial crises, migration, and inequality, less is known about the linkage between social mobility and populism. Narratives are crucial because they are a popular tool used by populists themselves and often reach people more effectively than mere facts or statistics. Similarly, the relationship between climate policies, distribution, and populism remains understudied. This project aims to test hypotheses about how social mobility shapes attitudes towards populism and how preferences for climate action influence this relationship. To this end, we will collect extensive survey data based on representative samples from Germany and the US.

We plan to conduct innovative survey experiments in Germany and the US, providing respondents with narratives on social mobility and observing changes in attitudes towards populism. We will also investigate heterogeneities concerning preferences for climate action. The project will span across the departments STAAT, KLI, and SOEP, emphasizing an interdisciplinary approach at the intersection of political science and economics.

DIW Team