Seven Billboards Outside Lisbon, Portugal

When I go to the office, I usually take the bike lane along Avenida da República, one of the principal arteries of Lisbon. All political parties rely on the traffic to force the countless drivers to stare at their billboards as they wait for the green light. Whenever I pass, I get a free class on Portuguese politics.

When I arrived in Lisbon in 2019, I started working on a project that tried to answer the following question: why is there no populism in Portugal? By now it is clear that populism is a common feature of Portuguese politics, the question would be perceived as naive at best. Another aspect changed since 2019: the party system has been evolving rapidly, with the populist radical right entering the parliament for the first time since the Carnation Revolution that in 1974 started the third wave of democratization across the world.

The Portuguese party system was famous for its stability, and on the right the two main parties were PSD and CDS. Now CDS is out of the parliament, and PSD is challenged by many new parties. Opportunity structures on the right are so favourable that many are trying to carve out their own space: it is the Wild West out there.

For this reason, I started taking pictures of all the billboards of right-wing parties I see when going to the office: to map the political space, understand its future evolution, and have a better grasp at the strategies of all the actors involved.

This work was first published on Twitter, and now it is polished and expanded in this new format to have all the information in one place (and to have it somewhere that is not Twitter, a space by now unusable for ethical and technological reasons, but that’s another story).

Enjoy the read…

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Interview #38 — Populism and Climate Change

Populism and climate change were supposed to be among the most crucial topics of 2020, if not of the entire decade that just started. Then the pandemic cancelled every other topic from the public debate, but climate change did not simply ‘stop’ when swans (allegedly) came back to Venice. Actually, it will be interesting to study the link between air pollution and the diffusion of viruses, because  it seems like air pollution is likely to increase coronavirus’ death rate.

After this emergency, the populist management of climate change will re-become central in the public debate not only because – separately – populism and climate change are both extremely relevant, but also because they are strictly connected to each other. Articles, studies, and reports are increasingly  focusing on the issue, making a connection between the two phenomena. For example, thirty percent of global emissions come from countries led by populist nationalist leaders, and “resistance to climate change policies has become a feature of the populist agenda.” This, however, does not mean that populist leaders have an interest in fighting climate change. In fact,  action on climate change is often seen as an elitist attempt to take away jobs and to impose new taxes. And even those right-wing populist parties that engage in some sort of ‘green patriotism’ – which strongly supports environmental conservation – do not support climate action.

Given the relevant role of populist parties in parliaments across the world, some even argue that a left-wing variant of ‘environmental populism‘ could be a solution. So far, however, this has not been the case, while right-wing populists have ‘successfully’ ignored the issue by pretending to defend the jobs linked to the coal industry. The right-wing populist ideology, based on the antagonism between ‘the people’ and a cosmopolitan elite, goes well with skeptic positions on climate change. Meanwhile, Jair Bolsonaro insists on deforestation, which could push the Amazon rainforest to an irreversible “tipping point” within two years (in his view also coronavirus, like global warming, is just a “media trick“). And in January, while Australia was literally on fire, coal helped Pauline Hanson secure a seat in the country’s Senate, where she staunchly defends Queensland’s coal industry.

Robert Huber is one of the best scholars on populism, and he recently published an excellent article about the association between populist attitudes, climate skepticism, and support for environmental protection. Let’s hear what he has to say.

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Interview #31 – The Contagious Effect of the Radical Right

In this interview, Tarik Abou-Chadi explains that when radical right parties are successful (and especially when they enter parliament), mainstream parties shift toward a more anti-immigrant position. This is hardly surprising. However, according to his studies, this is a totally counterproductive move, and established parties should not go in pursuit of anti-immigration discourses because that would make them lose votes. If there is an “original” nativist and anti-immigration party, why voting an imitation?

Moreover, he claims that the shift toward more anti-immigrant positions of established parties that we have witnessed in the past 20 years is not simply a representation of public opinion, but a strategic move towards the success of radical right parties. In fact, in most Western European countries attitudes toward immigration have become more positive.

In other words: would we have seen the same anti-immigrant shift by established parties had the radical right not been successful? 

Enjoy the read.

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