Strategies for resisting populist rhetoric and actions

Stay strong and resilient against populism: Developing a new positive narrative
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Strategies for resisting populist rhetoric and actions

Resisting populist rhetoric and actions requires a multifaceted approach that involves education, dialogue, and a commitment to democratic values. Specifically, populist rhetoric refers to the language and communication strategies employed by populist leaders in order to appeal to the general public (Busby et al., 2019). Some common characteristics of the populist rhetoric include the simplification of complex issues usually presented in binary terms which reinforce the ‘us versus them’ rhetoric, emotional appeal in order to mobilise support and create a sense of urgency and nationalistic and patriotic appeals through an emphasis on the importance of national identity.

Similarly, populist actions refer to the policy choices and governance style of populist leaders. Some actions which are frequently associated with populism include, centralisation of power since commonly populist leaders seek to concentrate power undermining democratic institutions, reinforce populist economic policies which are signalled by economic nationalism which while at first it promises economic prosperity for the working class, it can have negative consequences for long-term economic stability and growth (Schneiker, 2020).    

While populist rhetoric might be challenging to resist, some possible strategies for resisting it include (Blokker, 2020; Galston, 2018; Lironi et al., 2021):

Populism often relies on oversimplifications and disinformation. By educating yourself about the issues at stake, you can better recognise when populist rhetoric is being used for manipulating public opinion (Mounk, 2018) while at the same time you can develop a better understanding of complex problems. Ensure to seek out multiple and reliable sources of information, always critically assess information and be careful of sensationalist reporting. Developing media literacy skills can help you to effectively navigate through information.

Populism often thrives in spaces where people are surrounded by individuals who share the same views. Engaging in dialogue with people who hold different ideologies can help you understand their concerns and challenge your own assumptions by aiding you to broaden your perspective and challenge your own preconceptions (Inskeep, 2018). Listening and understanding the concerns of others can enable you to find common ground with other individuals while constructive dialogue partakes in the promotion of an inclusive and diverse discourse.

Populism often involves attacks on democratic institutions such as the free press and civil society organisations (Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2019b) which act as guards of accountability and democratic values. Protecting these institutions can help in preventing the concentration of power in the hands of a single leader or group. Moreover, participating in civil society activities can contribute to the perseverance of democratic norms and institutions.

Civic education is essential for the development of resilient and informed citizenry. Through the promotion of civic education in schools and communities, we can increase our understanding of democratic rights and responsibilities. Specifically, civic education enables us to critically assess political messages and actively engage in democratic processes and thus can foster a more engaged and active citizenry.


It thus becomes apparent that in order to resist populist rhetoric and actions, a collective effort and commitment to democratic values needs to be undertaken. Through combining education, dialogue, and protecting democratic institutions, we can work towards countering populism and thus strengthening our societies’ democratic resilience.

Strategies for resisting populist rhetoric and actions
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