Type of Work

Research Paper - Limited Access

Publication Date



Populism is a sensational topic in political news as observers fret over the radical, frequently far-right movements spawning in Europe and the United States. Though populism is simply a method of political organization and therefore has no overarching ideology, the general reaction to the concept is some level of anxiety. This indicates discomfort with the procedural tendencies of populist organization, with some perceived connection between that and the radical stances of many groups. This paper attempts to explain why the contemporary view of populism is so skeptical and focused on procedure. First it recounts the experience of Huey Long, a prominent and controversial populist politician from Louisiana in the 1920s and 1930s, and the criticism the Louisiana establishment and, particularly, the Times-Picayune, a New Orleans newspaper, leveled against him. Doing so, it will establish the historical views of populism from a lay perspective. It then focuses on the writing of prominent behavioralist political scientist, V. O. Key, Jr. to explain why twentieth century political science has shaped the current view of populism. Key used an “ins versus outs” model to describe politics as between two groups who repeatedly vie for power. He viewed populist organizing as a disruptive force to this process that obstructs rational political behavior for voters. Because Key focused on populism’s procedural aberrations from the American two-party system, his and similar analyses prepared the way for the current anxiety over grass-roots political organization.

Hamilton Areas of Study


Hamilton Sponsoring Organization

Levitt Public Affairs Center

Hamilton Scholarship Series

Levitt Summer Research Fellowship

Hamilton Faculty Advisor

Joel Winkelman