I found that the word "populist" means someone who represents the interests of ordinary people, so a "good" word. But I have also seen the term used as "he was accused of populism" so "bad".

What exactly does it mean.

closed as primarily opinion-based by FumbleFingers, Julie Carter, tchrist, TimLymington, Centaurus Aug 23 '15 at 22:56

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  • What exactly does it mean? All politics involves competing interests, and this competition extends to using the same word to mean different things. Populism means different things to different people. You shouldn't be surprised to find those aligned with monied interests calling populism 'cheap populism' or referring to those who align themselves with the interests of ordinary people as demagogues, or surprised to find ordinary people referring to monied interests as fat cats and special interests. – TRomano Aug 19 '15 at 13:25
  • What @Tim said, except I'd extend Populism means different things to different people ... OR the same people in different contexts. I've actually closevoted as Primarily Opinion-based - but arguably it should have been for lack of prior research, since I'd have thought this could easily be establish through dictionary definitions such as populist - appealing to the interests or prejudices of ordinary people. – FumbleFingers Aug 19 '15 at 13:36
  • The 'primarily opinion based' CV reason is wrong, here. OP is asking for a discussion of different senses of the words; of course there will be different usages out there. This has the makings of a very good question, but some initial research is needed. – Edwin Ashworth Aug 22 '15 at 11:00

Unfortunately, this has come to mean very different things in different places. For instance, in global politics, populism is often used to refer to a movement in which an “outsider” or anti-establishment figure tries to capture power by appealing directly to the masses. Some dictionaries will define populism as a political philosophy that favors the rights of the ordinary citizens against the elites. I am not sure which context you want to use the word but I hope this helps.

  • 2
    Quite so, the nuances inferred in both populist, and populism can vary greatly depending on context, audience etc. At one extreme it can be tantamount to demagoguery, which carries very bad tones indeed. People like Hitler are seen to have been demagogues. Often the word populism is prefaced with cheap making it clear that, in the mind of the commentator, a politician is making an easy point, which cannot fail to find support among the unintelligent. e.g. I believe in motherhood and apple pie. – WS2 Aug 19 '15 at 12:51

I'm not sure about 'representing the interests', I think it's come to mean 'aligning oneself with the views' of a large number of people. The perjorative aspect comes from the implied lack of principle.

oxforddictionaries.com gives:

1.1A person who supports or seeks to appeal to the concerns of ordinary people: she is something of a populist—her views on immigration resemble those of the right-wing tabloid press


From the Wikipedia summary:

Political parties and politicians often use the terms populist and populism as pejoratives against their opponents. Such a view sees populism as merely empathising with the public, (usually through rhetoric or "unrealistic" proposals) in order to increase appeal across the political spectrum.

It seems like it is used in a "bad" way when someone accuses someone else of not really supporting the views of populism, but just trying to sway a voting population with optimistic rhetoric.

  • I don't think popularism can ever be a good thing. It's always derogatory. – Carl Smith Aug 19 '15 at 13:46

Popularism involves gaining influence by adopting a position that you know is wrong because that position is popular with the general public. It stems from the idea that the general public are ignorant, and implies that a leader should do what is right, not what is popular with the masses. To accuse somebody of popularism, is to accuse them of adopting popular positions only to rally the mob in an effort to secure power.

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