The Populist Marketplace: Unpacking the Role of “Thin” and “Thick” Ideology

Fabian G. Neuner, Christopher Wratil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


A growing body of work adopts a “thin” ideology conception of populism, which attributes populist parties’ electoral success to anti-elite and people-centric appeals that resonate with voters holding populist attitudes. A second tradition, however, has attributed the success of populist parties to particular “thick” or “host” ideologies, such as anti-immigration, anti-globalization, or pro-redistribution positions. This creates a need to unpack which exact components of thin and/or thick populist ideology attract voters to these parties. We address this question by leveraging conjoint survey experiments that allow us to causally identify the effects of several thin and thick populist attributes on vote choice. Examining the case of Germany, results from experiments embedded in two high-quality panel surveys demonstrate that populist anti-immigration and pro-redistribution positions as well as people-centric political priorities are the most vote-maximizing components of populist ideology. In contrast, anti-elite priorities as well as Eurosceptic and anti-globalization positions do not boost support, not even among voters with strong populist attitudes. Our findings also call into question conventional wisdom about the interplay between supply and demand in the electoral marketplace. Surprisingly, populist voters, in general, are not significantly more attracted to candidates who advocate populist priorities than non-populist voters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)551-574
Number of pages24
JournalPolitical Behavior
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Conjoint experiment
  • Extremist parties
  • Germany
  • Populist attitudes
  • Populist voting

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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