A Populist Wave or Metamorphosis of a Chameleon? Populist Attitudes and the Vote in 2016 in the United States and Ireland

  • Stephen Quinlan GESIS Leibniz Institute for the Social Sciences, Mannheim, Germany
  • Deirdre Tinney University of Limerick
Keywords: populsim, elections, United States, Ireland


In the era of Brexit and President Trump, it is clear that we need to talk about populism. Populist political campaigns feature ever more widely, suggesting the phenomenon of a ‘populist wave’. But do populist sentiments shape vote choice? Using data from Ireland and the United States, incorporating CSES Module 5 questions that focused on populist sentiments and vote choice in 2016, we show that populist sentiments did motivate voters in both countries. We also demonstrate, however, that the old reliables – economic perceptions, partisanship, and left-right ideology – mattered more. Thus, an exclusive focus on populism for the success of Donald Trump in the US or Sinn Féin/AAA in Ireland is unwarranted. Further, populist sentiments motivating vote choice differed between the two countries, raising fresh questions about whether populism can be regarded as an ideology and whether even the “chameleon” metaphor overclaims coherence for the term.