6.4.2.2 Offering Populist Policies

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at http://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6422.htm)

Politicians can be subject to the types of direct public pressure described above (6.4.2.1), but they can try to avoid discontent by adopting policies that will please a lot of people.  Policies which please people can be beneficial, if the result is increased acceptability of governance, but it can be harmful if it is ‘populist’ – which here means seeking short-term approval from large numbers of people without taking account of the need for inclusiveness or prudence.  A populist can sense what people want, and can articulate it, but might not identify the best way of achieving it.

As described earlier, some democratic politicians try to win support by adopting populist policies (6.3.2.5), and some try to make people feel better by promoting nationalism with an ‘authoritarian populist’ approach (6.3.2.6).  Authoritarian governments are no less dependent upon popular support (6.3.1.7), although they are less susceptible to the very short-term pressures of elections.

All populist policies are distorted responses to the politicians’ need for public support.  The need for power should be a healthy incentive for politicians to perform in the best interests of the population; it should not be an excuse for populism.

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