Document Type



Master of Arts


Political Science, Comparitive Politics

Date of Defense


Graduate Advisor

J. Martin Rochester, Ph.D.


J. Martin Rochester, Ph.D.

David C. Kimball Ph.D.

Kenneth Thomas, Ph.D.


The purpose of this paper is to examine the root cause of the populist backlash that has been so prominent in recent western democracies. Populist backlashes have occurred with frequency over time, however since the turn of the 21st Century, they have occurred with increased frequency and effectiveness. This is largely due to a disconnect between political and media elites and the general public. I propose two models; the "fragment theory" and the "feedback loop" theory to help explain the increased effectiveness of populist movements. The "fragment theory" is the idea that fringe political parties are able to challenge mainstream parties and gain significant support by appealing to the public on major issues that are poorly addressed by main stream parties. The "feedback loop" theory is the idea that fringe candidates and parties have a mutual, symbiotic relationship in which the media relies on candidates for extreme rhetoric and advertisement revenue while the extremist candidate or party relies on the media for legitimacy. While this paper is not a comprehensive overview of nationalism or populism in every country, it focuses primarily on populism in the United States, Britain, and France. Finally, this paper examines the future of populism and whether young people will continue the recent trend of populist success.