Why Populism Is So Difficult to Predict

In How We Behave On

Theresa May, Britain’s prime minister, has joined a long line of politicians who have gambled that they understood the populist wave overtaking Western politics and lost.

Thursday’s election capped a year in which the latest theory of politics in the populist era perpetually seemed to prove incorrect, as did many predictions of election outcomes. What explains this seeming inexplicability?

Populism’s individual effects, after all, have become well known. Voters oppose party establishments, scramble demographic coalitions and are more motivated by what they oppose than by what they support.

The problem is that, even among leading scholars, how these factors interact in any given election is still poorly understood.

The changes are simply too complex and too new.

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