Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2463

Article | Open Access

Feeling Left Behind by Political Decisionmakers: Anti-Establishment Sentiment in Contemporary Democracies

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Abstract:  According to much of the extant literature, feelings and beliefs among many citizens of being left behind and unheard by unresponsive political decisionmakers, who lack moral integrity represent the epicenter of recent protest and populist discontent in democratic society. Based on survey data for 20 contemporary democracies from two ISSP waves, we found that anti-establishment attitudes are not shared among the majority of respondents. Although there are differences between country contexts. Such sentiment is associated with macrostructural dynamics, since unfavorable attitudes toward politicians are more widespread among publics in countries which are exposed to higher levels of public corruption and witnessed increasing levels of income inequality. Besides, such sentiment is also restricted to particular social groups of society, because hostile feelings toward political decisionmakers are stronger among citizens in the lower ranks of society and among younger birth cohorts. Since the beginning of the century and throughout the Great Recession, unfavorable attitudes toward politicians have not increased among the public in advanced democracies. However, our analysis indicates that respondents with such attitudes have increasingly turned toward voting for anti-elite parties to raise their voice and now make use of online options to express their political views more frequently than in the past. Overall, the analysis contributes to recent research on populist and reactionist dynamics in contemporary democracies by addressing dynamics and structures of the feeling of being left behind by political decisionmakers and its implications for political (in)activity.

Keywords:  anti-elitism; anti-establishment sentiment; democratic discontent; ISSP; political participation; populist attitudes


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© Luigi Droste. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.