Populism: democracy's Pharmakon?

Simon Tormey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

18 Citations (Scopus)


This paper seeks to resolve one of the key tensions in the literature on populism: whether populism is a threat to democracy or the best means of renewing and deepening democracy. The author argues that, rather than defining populism in terms of certain definite outcomes, we should view populism as a symptom of crisis, and one capable of producing a variety of possible effects, some positive and some negative. The argument is pursued in terms of highlighting certain shortcomings in terms of the dominant approaches to the issue, and also through exploring recent Spanish politics, which has seen an increase in various kinds of populist parties and movements. The renewal of democracy in Spain is offered as an example of how populist initiatives can have beneficial outcomes, as well as detrimental ones.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)260-273
Number of pages14
JournalPolicy Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2018


  • activism
  • democracy
  • participation
  • Populism
  • representation
  • Spain


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