Discussion Paper Details

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Title: A Commitment Theory of Populism

Author(s): Massimo Morelli, Antonio NicolÚ and Paolo Roberti

Publication Date: April 2021

Keyword(s): commitment, competence, Information Acquisition, interest groups, Moral Universalism and populism

Programme Area(s): Occasional Paper and Public Economics

Abstract: We propose a theory of populism as simplistic or unconditional commitment. Economic crises as well as social and cultural threats may be responsible for increased demand of simple credible policies, and reduced trust in the ability and reliability of representative politicians without policy commitments. We show under what conditions politicians choose to supply simplistic commitments in equilibrium and how this choice interacts with competence, antielite rhetoric and complementary fake news strategies. Whenever an equilibrium exists with one party choosing populist commitments and the other choosing delegation to experts, the former is always the one displaying lower moral universalism. Nationalism, closed border policies and protectionism are examples of commitment demands that reflect reduced moral universalism. When the desire for simple commitments increases, there can be also low political information when uncommitted politicians win.

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Bibliographic Reference

Morelli, M, NicolÚ, A and Roberti, P. 2021. 'A Commitment Theory of Populism'. London, Centre for Economic Policy Research.