According to a study commissioned by The Guardian newspaper based on speeches of over 140 political leaders for the past 20 years, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan accounts for the largest increase in populist rhetoric in the world.
The research, based on an analysis of public addresses by prime ministers, presidents and chancellors in 40 countries, suggests the number of populist leaders has more than doubled since the early 2000s.
It also reveals how politicians across the globe have gradually adopted more populist arguments, framing politics as a Manichean battle between the will of ordinary people and corrupt, self-serving elites.
The project was overseen by Team Populism, a global network of political scientists who have pioneered the use of “textual analysis” in populism studies. Their research is compiled in the Global Populism Database, the most comprehensive and reliable tracker of populist discourse in the world.
Each leader was given an average populism “score” based on the extent to which speeches contained populist ideas. The data pinpoints populist discourse by leaders in all the largest countries in Europe and the Americas, as well as India. Researchers graded their speeches on a 0-2 scale, ranging from not populist to very populist.
President Erdoğan came fourth among all leaders with a score of 1.5 out of 2, only passed by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, Nicolas Maduro and President Evo Morales of Bolivia.
Erdoğan was the only non-Latin American leader to warrant a “very populist” label on the basis of the speech analysis, and the only rightwing leader to reach that level of populist discourse. In a sign of how much the Turkish leader has changed during his 16 years at the helm of his country’s political system, Erdoğan was classified as “not populist” when he first came to power in 2003.