A two-wave study in the Netherlands explored the nature of the relationship between the endorsement of populist attitudes and feelings of interpersonal and intergroup hate. Results showed that populist attitudes reported at an earlier time predicted later feelings of hate towards other people. The reverse was not the case. The study was published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Populism is a type of political campaign or movement that seeks to appeal to the interests and concerns of ordinary people. Populism usually champions the causes of the common person against perceived injustice, while often attacking the established political parties and systems.
People attach this worldview to different ideologies. Unlike extremism, which emerges at the extreme ends of the political spectrum, populist attitudes are found all across the political spectrum, including both the left and right extremes and the political center.
A populist worldview often assumes that there is a moral struggle between the “good” people and “evil elites” and sees a popular charismatic leader as a protector of the people. This view can easily lead to the emergence of strong negative emotions towards the group seen as the antagonist and these feeling can include hate.
On the other hand, it is also possible the hate towards certain persons or groups can lead to the endorsement of attitudes that justify such feelings, depicting the hated parties as antagonists and presenting the hate felt towards them as a justified part of the moral struggle.
“We realized that there was a good match between characteristic ingredients of populism (e.g., its moral-based antagonism between groups), and characteristic antecedents of hate (e.g., perceived threats to identity and values, or the appraisal of the targets as evil),” explained study author Cristhian A. Martínez (@camartinez_m), a lecturer at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.
“We also realized that although other negative emotions such as anger, fear, or nostalgia have been studied in relation to populism before, there was no previous research examining the associations between populism and hate over time.”
To study the nature of the relationship between hate and populist attitudes, study author Martınez and his colleagues used data from a large scale cross-lagged panel research in the Netherlands. This type of research design relies on comparisons of associations between factors assessed at different timepoints to provide insight into which factor might be the cause of which.
As cause-and-effect relationships function only from the past to the future (past causes can produce consequences in the future, but future causes cannot produce consequences in the past), if one factor is the cause of another, then past values of the cause will be associated with future values of the consequence, but future values of the cause will not be associated with past values of the consequence or their association will be much lower.
The study included a total of 2,502 individuals, who participated in both waves of the study. Of these, 953 reported hating a specific person and 864 reported hate towards a specific group consistently in both waves. Hate was assessed using the Passionate Hate Scale and populist attitudes were measured using the Populist Attitudes Scale. Political ideology was assessed on an 11-point scale from left to right. Assessments were made in both study waves.
The researchers found that populist attitudes predicted later feelings of hate. However, there was little evidence for the reverse. The findings held even after controlling for political ideology, education, age, and sex.
The findings indicate that “hate feelings and populist attitudes are stable over time and positively associated, and it is more likely that populist attitudes pave the way to the progressive development of hate feelings over time and not in the opposite direction,” Martínez explained.
This was true for both intergroup hate and interpersonal hate.
“It was surprising to find that populist attitudes not only predict an increase in intergroup hate over time, but also an increase in hate towards interpersonal targets,” Martínez told PsyPost. “This finding might be explained by disagreements with close individuals in political matters, highlighting the influence that political factors might pose on interpersonal relationships.”
The study gives an important contribution to understanding the nature of association between hate and populist political attitudes, but it also has certain limitations. Notably, the sample was limited to the Netherlands and findings in other countries might be different. Additionally, the time difference between data collection waves was short – only two months and results might not be the same if longer time periods were considered.
The study, “The Hateful People: Populist Attitudes Predict Interpersonal and Intergroup Hate”, was authored by Cristhian A. Martınez, Jan-Willem van Prooijen, and Paul A. M. Van Lange.