Schmidtke, Oliver (2021), ‘We the People’: Demarcating the Demos in Populist Mobilization—The Case of the Italian Lega (open access) in Special Issue The Resurgence of Populism: Tackling the Crisis of Liberal Democracy
This article is a theoretically guided and empirically based analysis of how populist movements invoke the notion of the ‘people’ as a cornerstone of their political mobilization. While the confrontation between the virtuous ‘people’ and the unresponsive elites speaks to how populism challenges established political actors and institutions, the actual meaning of who the ‘people’ are and what they represent is shifting and often driven by strategic considerations. Analytically the article investigates the distinct ways in which nationalism and populism conceptualize and politically mobilize the notion of the ‘people’. Empirically it focuses on the Italian League and engages in a discourse analysis of its political campaigns over the past 30 years. Based on this textual analysis of political campaigns, the article sheds light on how the reference to the ‘people’ has been employed as this political actor has transformed from a regionalist party advocating for autonomy in Northern Italy to one taking up the role of a populist-nationalist party at the national level. This case study allows the author to make a generalizable hypothesis about the nature of identity politics promoted by populist actors and the way in which the invocation of the ‘people’ and their alleged enemies is a pivotal political narrative that opens and restricts opportunities for political mobilization. This interpretative approach also allows for a more concise conceptual understanding of the affinity that right-wing populists demonstrate toward nativist ideologies.