H2020 Project DEMOS “Democratic Efficacy and the Varieties of Populism in Europe”

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Scientific coordinator: Zsolt Boda, Centre for Social Sciences, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

Chair of the Advisory Board: Tania Groppi, Università di Siena


The Project

DEMOS (Democratic Efficacy and the Varieties of Populism in Europe) is a research project aiming at better understanding populism. Funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, the project is carried out by 15 partner institutions in Europe and involves 10 disciplines. DEMOS investigates the phenomenon of populism through the lenses of democratic efficacy. The concept combines attitudinal features (political efficacy), political skills, knowledge, and democratic opportunity structures.  The concept, a novelty, is understood as as a condition of political engagement needed to address the challenges of populism.

DEMOS addresses its hitherto under-researched aspects at micro-, meso-, and macro-levels: its socio-psychological roots, social actors’ responses to the populist challenge, and populism’s effects on governance. DEMOS focuses not only on the polity, but equally on citizens’ perspectives: how they are affected by, and how they react to, populism. Politically underrepresented groups and those targeted by populist politics are a particular focus. Examples include youth, women, and migrants.

As populism has varying socially embedded manifestations, DEMOS aims at contextualising it through comparative analysis on the variety of populisms across Europe, including their historical, cultural, and socioeconomic roots, manifestations, and impacts. DEMOS develops indicators and predictors of populism and elaborates scenarios on the interactions of populism with social actors and institutions both at the national and the EU levels.

DEMOS combines in-depth research on populism and democratic efficacy with action research and pilot projects in order to develop lasting tools and timely policy recommendations. Project methods include experiments, deliberative polling, text mining, surveys, and legal analysis. DEMOS places strong emphasis on communication and productive interactions with a variety of stakeholders throughout the project, including policymakers, journalists, students, and the general public.


Work Plan

The work plan of DEMOS consists of 11 Work Packages (WP). One WP is dedicated to managing the project, while another builds up the project validation and quality assurance. DEMOS has one WP planned for dissemination and communication activities—from the beginning to the end of the project.

Eight WPs take central stage in elaborating the scientific work in the project consortium. Among these WPs, one elaborates the analytical framework and starts an empirical research on the populist phenomena. Another develops the concept of democratic efficacy and grounds it on empirical terms. Afterwards, a WP was set up to focus on the socio-psychological aspects of populism at the micro-level, while another WP studies the macro-level: governance and public policy.

The work also includes gauging the impact of populism at micro-, meso-, and macro-levels. The work will pave the way for a WP accounting for social responses and reactions to populism—demonstrating democratic efficacy in practice. An entire WP is devoted to developing educational tools through pilots and action research. A Work Package then draws upon results to formulate and put forward crucial policy recommendations.