This space is about POLAR, my project on authoritarian legacies in Spain and Portugal, financed by the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) with the grant 2022.03115.PTDC, and realized at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon (ICS-UL) between March 2023 and September 2024.

The project’s title is Back to the future? Populism and the Legacies of Authoritarian Regimes (POLAR). In this space I present the project, give updates, announce the participation in conferences or the publication of material, and make data available.

DALL·E 2023-03-27 13.04.23 - A steampunk-style polar bear dressed like an astronaut reads a hefty book while looking into a telescope, cyberpunk poster

A steampunk polar bear from the future reads about authoritarian legacies while checking on his telescope the position of Ursa Minor. Generated by Dall E 2.

What is POLAR about?

Over the last decade, the populist radical right has surged across the world as one of the major threats to liberal democratic principles such as pluralism, media freedom, and minorities’ protection. Pundits noticed striking similarities between the current situation and the social unrest, economic crisis, and political instability that brought fascist regimes to power in the 1920s and 1930s. From Brazil to India, the United States and Hungary, populist radical right actors have been shaping national and international politics. Moreover, the populist radical right has become increasingly normalised, meaning that certain ideas, expressions and behaviours that were once ruled out as illegitimate — such as authoritarian tendencies that criticize rule of law, media freedom, separation of powers, independence of the judiciary system — have become socially acceptable by the general public.

Going beyond generic predictions of the impending end of democracy as we know it, POLAR takes a new angle to understand the rise and normalisation of the radical right: analysing how the fading stigmatisation of the authoritarian past and the accommodative stance of the media contribute to lend legitimacy to radical right parties. This is the crucial puzzle at the heart of POLAR: how can we explain the normalisation of the populist radical right? With democratic countries backsliding towards authoritarianism and populist radical right parties becoming increasingly successful in elections even in countries that were considered immune to the radical right, it is crucial to understand why the stigma associated with past authoritarian regimes no longer seems to serve as an antidote to the populist radical right. Building on existing strands of literature on authoritarian legacies, populism, and the far right, this project advances our knowledge about current political trends by introducing three key innovations. First, POLAR offers a refined conceptualisation and measure of the stigmatisation of the authoritarian past. Second, it connects populist attitudes and stigmatisation of the authoritarian past in a systematic and explicit way. Third, it studies whether different media strategies contribute to the normalisation of the far right in the public sphere.

POLAR will first develop a conceptual framework of the links between populism and authoritarianism. Following a systematic literature review and an analytical account of the relationship between populist and authoritarian values, we will create a measure of the stigmatisation of past authoritarian regimes that can be implemented in an online survey. This measure will be twofold: first, an observational measure, and second, an experimental design to test whether past authoritarian regimes are more stigmatised than contemporary far right populist actors. We will then field a representative online survey in Spain and Portugal including the new measure, the survey experiment, as well as standard items capturing political attitudes and behaviour, including populist attitudes. The goal is to understand whether a low stigma of the authoritarian past is linked to populist attitudes, and if the strength of this relationship varies depending on the age of the respondents, to determine if the stigmatisation of the authoritarian past is fading and how this relates to holding populist views.

Moreover, POLAR will perform a content analysis of newspaper articles to determine whether different media strategies contribute to the normalisation or the stigmatisation of the far right in the public sphere. In particular, the content analysis will measure to what extent radical right parties receive a positive, neutral or negative coverage, and if the fact of being labelled as populist rather than just radical right influences the coverage they receive. The content analysis will also reveal how the coverage of the radical right changed between the 2010s and now.


Author: Joaquín de Alba Carmona (2010), CC license.

POLAR’s Team

POLAR is composed of a research team and an advisory board. The principal investigator (PI) is Luca Manucci, the co-PI is Steven van Hauwaert, and the assistant researcher is Roberto Pannico.

The advisory board is composed by experts on the topics and emthodologies covered by the project: Léonie de Jonge, Pedro Magalhães, Alice Ramos, and Dominique Wirz.

Luca Manucci is a researcher interested in the link between populism and collective memory. He published a book titled Populism and Collective Memory: Comparing Fascist Legacies in Western Europe. In 2022 he edited a volume of interviews to experts on populism, titled The Populism Interviews: A Dialogue with Leading Experts. He received his PhD from the University of Zurich, Switzerland. He is now a researcher at the Institute of Social Sciences at the University of Lisbon.

Steven M. Van Hauwaert is currently an Associate Professor at Forward College (Paris) and a Fellow at Radboud University (Nijmegen). His research focuses on the (lack of) responsive dynamics between citizens and elites, as well as various challenges to democratic responsiveness. Related contributions have appeared in a wide variety of peer-reviewed publications across and beyond the discipline.

Roberto Pannico is Ramón y Cajal Fellow at the Department of Political Science of the Autonomous University of Barcelona. Previously, I was Beatriu de Pinós Fellow at the University of Barcelona and post-doctoral researcher for the ERC MAPLE Project at the Social Sciences Institute of the University of Lisbon. His research interests include attitudes toward the EU, economic voting, information processing, party cues, survey and experimental methodology.​

Léonie de Jonge is Assistant Professor in European Politics & Society at the University of Groningen. She is an expert on populist radical right parties in Europe, with a particular focus on the Benelux region. Over the past years, she conducted research on the ways in which media practitioners such as journalists choose to deal with far-right parties and movements. 

Pedro C. Magalhães is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences of the University of Lisbon, doing research on public opinion, democratic attitudes, and voting behavior. His work has been published in journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, European Journal of Political Research, Comparative Political Studies, Public Opinion Quarterly, Governance, and many others.

Alice Ramos PhD in Sociology, University of Lisbon. Research interests include values ; prejudice and discrimination; attitudes towards immigration and the methodology of cross-national studies. Alice is National Coordinator of the European Social Survey-ERIC, Project Director and member of the Executive Committee of the European Values Study. She coordinates the line of Data Production of the infrastructure PASSDA (Production and Archive of Social Science Data).

Dominique Wirz is a senior researcher at the Department of Communication at the University of Fribourg. She received a PhD in 2018 from the University of Zurich with a thesis on the effects of populist communication on political attitudes. Her main research interests are entertainment, infotainment, and emotions in political communication. In 2021, she was a Fulbright visiting scholar at Michigan State University for three months and in 2022 a visiting researcher at the University of Amsterdam (ASCoR) for six months.



This summer POLAR will hire students based in Portugal to realise its ambitious content analysis. We will start around the end of June and finish in early September, to avoid overlapping with other classes and exams as much as possible.

We are looking for 8 coders in total, 4 Portuguese mother tongue coders and 4 Spanish mother tongue coders, with a Portuguese NIF and resident in Portugal.

The coders will be hired part-time for two months, earning 1200 euros (before taxes) for 160 hours of work.

If you are interested, write an email to: luca.manucci@ics.ulisboa.pt

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