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Hope, Trust Deficits May Help Fuel Populism

Hope, Trust Deficits May Help Fuel Populism

by Galina Zapryanova and Anders Christiansen
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Eighteen EU countries more disaffected, short on hope than U.S.
  • Among EU countries, France high on both indicators
  • Greece tops ranking on both disaffected and short on hope

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Ahead of President Donald Trump's election in the U.S., slightly more than one in four Americans (26%) lacked confidence in their national government and were discouraged about their own future -- a condition that a new Gallup analysis suggests may be useful in understanding the recent rise of populism in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. In a global context, this condition was present and higher than the percentage in the U.S. in 18 out of 27 countries in the European Union, which is currently experiencing its own wave of populism.

Disaffected and Discouraged Citizens in the EU and U.S., 2016
  No Confidence in National Government (Disaffected) Future Life Poorly Viewed Relative to Current Life (Discouraged) Disaffected and Discouraged
  % % %
Greece 81 67 54
Italy 75 62 46
Slovenia 75 60 45
France 70 64 43
Romania 76 51 40
Bulgaria 67 53 36
Spain 69 52 34
Belgium 57 62 34
Hungary 55 58 33
United Kingdom 56 57 32
Austria 55 56 31
Slovakia 51 61 31
Estonia 57 51 29
Finland 48 60 28
Netherlands 42 67 28
Lithuania 65 44 28
Czech Republic 45 60 27
Germany 43 60 27
United States 69 38 26
Portugal 57 44 25
Denmark 53 51 25
Cyprus 60 39 23
Poland 49 47 23
Sweden 49 50 23
Luxembourg 30 67 22
Ireland 38 58 21
Latvia 57 38 21
Malta 37 45 17
Note: Croatia was not included in the current ranking because of a lack of available data for 2016.
Gallup World Poll


Following the groundswell of support for anti-establishment candidates in numerous countries worldwide, many analysts want to understand and predict the success of populist movements. A team of Gallup analysts is analyzing various measures from its global and domestic survey research with the goal of capturing the scope of potential populist support among different populations.

Two of the measures the team is looking at closely are people's confidence in their national government and people's ratings of their lives in five years relative to their ratings of their current lives. Gallup's initial analysis reveals that people in countries with recent populist movements tend to have a combination of low trust in government and low or static expectations for their future lives. (Gallup measures life evaluations by asking respondents to rate their current and future lives on a ladder scale based on the Cantril Self-Anchoring Striving Scale.)

Gallup terms those who lack confidence in their national government as "disaffected" and those who rate their lives on the same footing or worse in relation to their current lives as "discouraged." The analysis did not include people who give both their current and future lives the best possible rating in this discouraged category.

Europe No Stranger to Populist Movements

Europe has experienced several populist movements on the ideological left and right in the past decade. In 2010, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy identified populism as one of the biggest dangers facing Europe.

Years later, Europe is facing political tests such as Brexit and a row of crucial elections in 2017: presidential and parliamentary elections in France and Germany, respectively; general elections in the Czech Republic; presidential elections in Slovenia; and local elections in the UK, where Brexit, rather than local issues, is expected to take precedence.

The Netherlands just conducted a general election in which the populist Party for Freedom came in second. Results were met with relief from mainstream political parties across Europe, but experts also cautioned that the highly divisive campaign might make it difficult to govern.

Three of the countries with imminent elections -- France, the UK and Slovenia -- rank in the top 10 EU countries with the highest percentage of disaffected and discouraged residents. Germany and the Netherlands both rank in the lower tier of EU countries, with 27% of Germans and 28% of Dutch residents expressing these feelings. In all of the seven EU countries with 2017 elections, the magnitude of these sentiments shows little change between 2015 and 2016.

Disaffected and Discouraged Citizens in EU Countries With 2017 Elections
  Disaffected and Discouraged (2015) Disaffected and Discouraged (2016) Change
  % % pct. pts.
France 44 43 -1
Germany 22 27 5
Netherlands 25 28 3
United Kingdom 26 32 6
Slovenia 43 45 2
Czech Republic 29 27 -2
Bulgaria 38 36 -2
Gallup World Poll


Results from the disaffected-and-discouraged indicator line up well with actual electoral outcomes. In a comparison of seven major European countries, those that ranked high on the indicator also ranked high on electoral support for populist parties.

Rank Comparison With Recent Election Results in Seven Major EU Countries
  Discouraged and Disaffected Rank* Electoral Support for Populism Rank
Greece 1 1
Italy 2 2
France 2 2
Spain 3 3
United Kingdom 3 4
Germany 4 5
Netherlands 4 4
*Countries that rank within five percentage points of each other are assigned the same rank because the differences are statistically small.
Gallup World Poll

Gallup used results from the most recent national or European election (Germany and France). European elections (electing members of the European Parliament) should not be considered fully equivalent to national ones as they have key differences (e.g., turnout levels). However, the proportion of support won by populist parties is often a reliable indicator of domestic discontent against the political establishment. The UK Independence Party won 26.7% of the national vote in the 2014 election to the European Parliament -- its best electoral performance ever, and the first time since 1910 when one of Britain's two major parties did not win a UK-wide election. Two years later, Britain narrowly voted to exit the EU.

Percentage of Disaffected, Discouraged Americans Up Over Past Decade

Trump's inaugural address included many of the elements of classic populist rhetoric. It introduced a "new way" of doing politics: a direct Twitter-based connection between the people and himself -- without media outlets, political parties or other institutions serving as intermediaries.

At least some of the preconditions for the populist wave were, however, in place much earlier than 2016. An initial surge in disaffected and discouraged citizens in 2007 and 2008 points to the possibility that the Great Recession triggered a social phenomenon that has not yet subsided. President Barack Obama's election resulted in a temporary reprieve, as the majority of residents expressed optimism about the future. The disaffected and discouraged indicator began climbing again in 2009, reaching its peak of 28% in 2011, and then again in 2015.



Preliminary findings suggest that growing deficits of hope and trust are more likely to be prevalent in countries experiencing a rise in populism support. A recent analysis by the Economist Intelligence Unit similarly finds that distrust in major institutions has been a major factor in the rise of populism in Europe and North America.

Gallup will further test additional indicators of populism and anti-establishment attitudes using available data from all world regions. Different regions may have contextual differences that analysts will further explore to develop a predictive model of populism support adaptable to country contexts.

Future publications in the populism series will report such findings.

Jesus Rios, Mathilde Lugger, Imen Berrached and David Llanos contributed to the analysis for this article.

The data in this article are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews with at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, conducted between 2006 and 2016 in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States. For results based on the total sample of national adults in each country, the margin of sampling error is ±3.4 to ±4.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting. In the electoral data, populist parties included are those who passed the respective election threshold for garnering seats in parliament. They are defined as anti-establishment parties (with either left-wing or right-wing views) who challenge mainstream politics and use populist discourse. Specifically, for the seven countries listed these include SYRIZA (Greece); Golden Dawn (Greece); Independent Greeks (Greece); Five Star Movement (Italy); Podemos (Spain); National Front (France); UK Independence Party (UK); Alternative for Germany (Germany); and Party for Freedom (Netherlands). The Electoral Support for Populism Rank is created by combining the vote percentages for these parties in the respective election. Countries that rank within one percentage point of each other on Electoral Support were assigned the same rank.

For complete methodology and specific survey dates, please review Gallup's Country Data Set details.

Learn more about how the Gallup World Poll works.

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