Populism Definition: “At its root, populism is a belief in the power of regular people, and in their right to have control over their government rather than a small group of political insiders or a wealthy elite.”

The rise of populism tends not to be a partisan issue, rather it can coalesce from either left-wing or right-wing politics. But the unifying sentiment between populist parties is that their candidate stands for the ‘common people’ that feel they have been alienated, disenfranchised and forgotten by their current political climate. And that the reason for their struggles are political elites tipping the scales in their favor through internal political maneuvering and ignoring the constituents they were elected to represent.

According to Benjamin Moffitt at Sweden’s Uppsala University, ‘populists’ can be identified through 3 key components.

1. An appeal to “the people” against the despised elite (whoever the elites may be)

2. Deliberate use of “bad manners” to shock the establishment and prove the politician’s/candidate’s credentials as “one of the people”

3. The use – or manufacturing – of a crisis to justify the call to revolt/rebel against the current elites

Since 2016, Europe has experienced an institutional shakeup due to the rise of anti-establishment sentiment. The UK has voted to leave the European Union, the anti-immigration ‘League’ and ‘Five Star’ movements have risen to power and methodically dismantled traditional norms. Even popular liberal leaders are facing pressures from their respective nations going so far as to cause German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, to resign as the head of Christian Democrats. Back in 1998, only two small European countries – Switzerland and Slovakia – had populists in government. Two decades later, another nine countries do. The number of Europeans ruled by a government with at least one populist in cabinet has increased from 12.5 million to 170 million. This has been blamed on everything from recession to migration, social media to globalisation.

The term populism is far from a recent discovery, with historical origins dating back to the 19th century. But contemporary scholars agree that modern populism is a new phenomena, the appearance of the rise of populist movements and leaders have multiplied since the spread and popularity of social media networks in the late ’90s. The role of social media in general has been their capacity for exponential dissemination of information, serving as a catalyst for spontaneous grassroots political movements.

While social media has served as the mechanism of ideological diffusion, the primary driver for support of populism has been the increasing opposition to mass migration and the problems associated with it. In addition to the call for stronger borders, the parties are inevitably illiberal, anti-American, anti-NATO and pro-Kremlin. Their rise in popularity to many European allies are a serious concern for the national security interests of the United States.

As of today, over 25% of European voters are voting for populist parties. The concerns of the populists parties range widely on the spectrum but the concerns of populist voters are legitimate and must be addressed. Low wages and pensions, lost work due to automation and concerns of lost sovereignty due to participation in international alliances are justifiable reasons for concern. These issues must be addressed to come to a compromise and forgo the eventual regression towards isolationist policies and the disassembly of contemporary democratic institutions.


Your SWAC leader will prompt you with questions concerning the same idea: The United Kingdom presented its willingness to give up on Brexit, only if the European Union gives into the concessions put forth by the United Kingdom. The EU showed no signs of giving in, but have negotiated a deal for the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union through Article 50. If you were the Prime Minister of the UK, how would you handle this negotiation? And what about if you were a member of the EU that wants to keep the European Union intact?

Express your thoughts and contribute to discussion with your SWAC peers! (Write your thoughts.)

Kahoot! Introductory Quiz

Kahoot! is an online Quiz platform. This small four-question quiz is to test the student’s prior knowledge of the JCPOA and nuclear warfare, introducing them to the discussion to come. The quiz does not require the proctor to have a Kahoot account in order to start. Students will use an electronic device in order to answer. The link is below; click START NOW and select Classic mode. After the Game PIN is generated, students will be able to join the session by accessing on their computer or mobile device. Begin the quiz once all students have joined! This activity shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.


Lesson Handout

Now is when the handouts should be passed out to students. This handout will cover an analysis of how populism emerged as a strong electoral force in Europe. It is recommended that the handout be read aloud as a group instead of individually. Take some time after the document has been read to cover the material with the students and make sure that it’s been generally understood. Ask questions to students; get them to summarize what they’ve read and make sure that the students are engaged and understanding. The reading shouldn’t take more than 20 minutes.


Video Resources

We have two video resources below that will go over in more detail the current event portion of the handout and expand upon it. Following each link we’ve included a description of the video and possible questions that you can ask students to see what they’ve taken away from watching the clips. Each video clip is between 3 and 6 minutes; coupled with questions, this segment should take no more than 15 minutes.

The Rise of European Populism

The video explains the definition, range, and origins of the varieties of populist parties in European democracies.

Brexit, Briefly 

This video explains the precarious situation that the United Kingdom finds itself in due to the nature of the referendum to leave the EU in 2016.


  • The international community as a whole are experiencing growing pains as populist candidates and populist parties are gaining traction in governments all across the globe. What actions should Europe take in terms of addressing populist actions like Brexit, closing international borders and the regression of democracy in Hungary and Poland?
  • In terms of domestic policy, what do you foresee for relations between the UK and the EU? How about an Brexit-ed United Kingdom’s relationship to the United States? The rest of the world?
  • How would you address the rise of populism if you were the head of state?

(This shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes – total estimated meeting time: no more than 1 hour.)


Champion, Mark, (January 22, 2019), The Rise of Populism, Retrieved March 27, 2019, From The Washington Post:

Foreign Policy Association, (2019), The Rise of Populism in Europe, Retrieved March 25, 2019, From the Foreign Policy Association:

Henley, Jon, (November 20, 2018), How populism emerged as an electoral force in Europe, Retrieved April 1, 2019, From The Guardian: Editor, Populism, Retrieved March 27, 2019, From