The Social Axioms of Populism: Investigating the Relationship Between Culture and Populist Attitudes


  • Waleed A. Jami
  • Markus Kemmelmeier


Populism is on the rise with various movements having electoral breakthroughs. Most social-science research on populism has focused primarily on party tactics and rhetoric, and a definition for the term itself; only recently has populism emerged as a psychological construct. We contribute to this growing literature with two studies (n = 456 and n = 5,837) that investigated the cultural worldviews underpinned in populist attitudes. Using the social axioms model, an etic framework for assessing people’s generalized social expectations, we linked populist attitudes to universal dimensions of culture. We found that higher levels of social cynicism and social flexibility, and to a lesser extent, lower levels of fate control and reward for application predicted populist attitudes. These findings indicate that people who endorse populist attitudes, across a range of contexts, are cynical regarding the social world, believe in alternative solutions to social dilemmas, but may also perceive a world that is difficult to control and potentially unfair. The discussion focuses on the cultural forces that may drive or facilitate populist attitudes across context and time.