Can human evolution help us understand the support for populist movements?

Ianosev, Bogdan and Sahin, Osman (2020) Can human evolution help us understand the support for populist movements? Political Insight, 11 (3). pp. 26-29. ISSN 2041-9066

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DOI: 10.1177/2041905820958820
Original publication URL: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/20419...

Abstract

One striking aspect of the coronavirus crisis was the poor response of the right-wing populist leaders to the pandemic in countries such as the US, Britain, and Brazil. Despite this fact, the continuing voter support right-wing populist leaders attract across countries with different socio-economic traits is puzzling. In this paper, we argue in favour of a cognitive anthropological view of populism scholarship. Cognitive and evolutionary anthropology shows that mental systems common to all humans shape the way we understand the world, making some ideas more plausible than others regardless of their levels of accuracy. Even though the action of ‘building a wall’ to keep illegal migrants away can prove ultimately unfeasible and does not address real immigration issues, due to our cognitive evolution, it makes intuitive sense as a plausible option to reducing immigration. Populist leaders exploit our cognitive intuitions by providing such intractable but oftentimes intuitively-plausible ideas in order to get elected or to promote preferred policies. Furthermore, we intuitively admire powerful individuals and tend to defer to authoritative and charismatic figures as an evolutionary strategy for acquiring valued skills and negotiating hierarchies. As a result, by committing to the intuitively-plausible policies populist leaders promote, such as ‘building a wall’, they give additional credence to the political beliefs that are based on our cognitive intuitions, effectively increasing their plausibility for the “common folk”.

Item Type: Article
Title in English: Can human evolution help us understand the support for populist movements?
Keywords in English: evolution, populism, right-wing populism, cognitive anthropology, cognitive intuitions
Subjects: J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Divisions: Institute for Political Science
Research funder: European Union, Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Action DEMOS grant no. 822590
Depositing User: Enikő Meiszterics
Date Deposited: 15 Sep 2020 07:05
Last Modified: 29 Apr 2021 12:49
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