When Charisma is no Longer Enough. Insights on Populist Parties’ Leadership from the (Northern) League

Abstract

Several scholars of populism have pointed out that populist parties rely very oft en on so-called charismatic leadership (Canovan, 1981; McDonnell, 2015). While the rise of populist parties in Europe in the last decade is quite evident and well-studied, what remains understudied is how this phenomenon interacts with other transformations that are currently shaping parties and party systems in European democracies. In particular, what is the interplay between the rise of populism, political leadership and personalization of politics? This link between populism and leadership could be understood in the light of the change occurring within party organizations, and internal party democratization in particular (Musella, 2015; Pogunkte and Webb, 2007; Karvonen, 2010; Scarrow et al. 2017). Following these studies underlining a close relationship between populism, leadership and inclusive leadership selection methods, in this paper we aim at empirically exploring how the personalization and democratization of organizational patterns affect the role of the leader in populist parties. To what extent does the use of inclusive selection methods of party leaders within populist parties affect the scope of their organizational power and strengthens the party’s personalization patterns? To explore this research question, we focus on a case study, the Lega Nord (LN) in Italy as an empirical illustration and we rely on original survey data, on aggregated electoral data as well as on primary and secondary data on party organizational rules.

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