Populism refers to a range of political stances that emphasize the idea of “the people” and often juxtapose this group against “the elite.” The term developed in the late 19th century in connection to the Populist Party and has been applied to various politicians, parties and movements since that time, often derisively by opponents. Within political science and other social sciences, several different definitions of populism have been employed, with some scholars proposing that the term be rejected altogether.
A common framework for interpreting populism is known as the ideational approach: this defines populism as an ideology which presents “the people” as a morally good force and contrasts them against “the elite,” who are portrayed as corrupt and self-serving. Populists differ in how “the people” are defined, but it can be based along class, ethnic, or national lines. Populists typically present “the elite” as comprising the political, economic, cultural, and media establishment, depicted as a homogeneous entity and accused of placing their own interests, and often the interests of other groups—such as large corporations, foreign countries, or immigrants—above the interests of “the people”. Populist parties and social movements are often led by charismatic or dominant figures who present themselves as “the voice of the people”. According to the ideational approach, populism is often combined with other ideologies, such as nationalism, liberalism, or socialism. Thus, populists can be found at different locations along the left–right political spectrum, and there exist both left-wing populism and right-wing populism.