Populism in policy and law-making

International researches about populism (dominated by Western scholars) have focused on radical or extremist populist parties; the main features of centrist populism and the policy decisions of governing populist policy parties and their implementation have not been explored yet. Studying populism in East-Central European new democracies where populist parties are not atypical in governing position provide an excellent research field to analyse the role of populism in governance and the policy-making process. An expected value-added of this research is the exploration of the impact of populism on the policy-making process and governance in particular. Our approach is not normative; instead we intend to understand the mechanisms through which policy decisions are shaped by populist political actors. This research may have some important theoretical and conceptual contribution to the scholarship on populism by elaborating the nexus between centrist populism and governance through the perspective of the policy-making process. In addition, the expected empirical findings may contribute to our understanding of the policy mechanisms shaped by populist political actors in Central European new democracies.

This research explores the main features of populism in policy-making. It discusses the main motives and policy-making patterns of populist political actors, thus citizens, civil society and media actors may understand the policy process in an appropriate manner when populist actors dominate the political field.

Accordingly, our research also investigates the relationship between populism, constitutionalism, and the rule of law in the context of the Hungarian political developments. Hungary has recently been actively engaging with constitutional reform and even constitution-making and widespread legislative change. The populist approach appeared to construct an alternative, purely majoritarian constitutional order, in sharp contrast to liberal-democratic constitutionalism (‘legal constitutionalism’). One of the research ambitions is the exploration of how the attempts at creating a populist constitutional order are endorsed in law-making: investigating whether the claims and justifications of a populist government implies an ‘abusive constitutionalism’ (Landau, 2013). We aim to find ways to understand the structural causes of the relative weakness that liberal-democratic institutions have shown in confronting populist counter-constitutional attempts. Our research will offer a unique and comprehensive perspective on the phenomenon of ‘populist law making’ with regard to constitutionalism and the rule of law.

The main method of the research is pattern-matching analysis: we investigate how certain policy areas fit to the ideal type of populist policy-making and law-making in the case of post-2010 Hungary. We study those policy areas where the distinguishing features of populist policy-making and law-making are particularly manifest. Accordingly, five policy fields are chosen for the analysis: economic policy, penal policy, family policy, migration policy, equality and minority policy.

Research questions

The main questions of the research are the following:

(1) What are the typical policy-making patterns of governments dominated by populist parties?

(2) What are the distinctive features of populist law-making?

In addition, we also intend to explore the mechanisms that support the survival of populism in governance; this implies a third research question:

(3) How can populist parties manage the challenges of governance and survive throughout the sequences of electoral cycles?

Principal investigator: Zsolt Boda


Attila Bartha

Marianna Kopasz

Zoltán Szente

Bence Ságvári

Emese Szilágyi

Fruzsina Gárdos-Orosz

Dorottya Szikra

Zsanett Pokorny

András László Pap