PII: Populism, Inequality and Institutions

About the project

By contrast to the politically-dominant view that populism is primarily a consequence of immigration, PII investigates the argument that the underlying driver is lifetime shifts in economic inequality, caused by on-going economic transformation through technological change and import competition. The project’s fundamental hypotheses are that the underlying dynamics of long-term economic structural transformation display similar patterns of change across advanced European countries. These hypotheses are addressed in comparative analysis combining theory with unique administrative and life-course data, combining insights from economics and political science. Research examining these hypotheses should have a major impact on rethinking education and training strategies and on how labour markets work.

First results

Some of the first results include:

  • Research on how trade exposure influences support for social insurance shows that realized income losses due to import exposure results in lower support for social insurance. This result is in contrast to the conventional wisdom on how risks from trade influence the welfare state, but explains why we have seen welfare retrenchment in times of rapid globalization.
  • Workers who have lost their job in a mass layoff suffer wage losses of more than 10% on average. About half of the wage loss can be accounted for by a decline in the quality of the firm. Wage losses are larger for low-wage workers and have increased over time in particular for low-wage workers, in large part because these workers find it increasingly difficult to find employment in high-quality firms.
  • According to European survey data, there was no dramatic change in the structure of immigration attitudes, but a continuing importance of the labour market for the education divide in immigration attitudes.
  • A survey experiment in the UK and Denmark shows that UK voters who are provided information about growing income distance between the poor and the middle class become less likely to support income redistribution. Information about the distance between the middle class and the rich have no effect. Danish voters are unresponsive to both treatments.
  • Exposure of natives to assimilated immigrants is correlated with a lower support for more restrictive immigration policies.



Research team

Prof. D.W. Soskice
London School of Economics

Prof. A.C.T. Björklund
Stockholm University

Prof. U. Schoenberg
University College Londen

Dr H. Finseraas
Institute for Social Research