IEU Experience


Understanding populism is no easy task. Nevertheless, professors Nina Wiesehomeier (School of Global and Public Affairs, IE University) and Kirk Hawkins (Brigham Young University, Utah, USA) are trying to do just that.

With the help of IE University students, they aim to research, code, and publish results that will help us understand what populism is, where it’s most prevalent, and important social questions related to the ideology.

Why is it important to understand populism?

Populism has always been a contributing factor to world politics. Just looking back through history we can start to understand the broadness of its presence, from Ancient Rome through to the Bolsheviks with Lenin. When we think about it, almost all revolutions started with a populist uprising.

Even today, populism is a driving force in our political landscape, with modern leaders like Trump and Corbyn being given the “populist” label. So, considering that populism is such a broad concept that encompasses the entire political spectrum, how could it possibly be measured? Professors Nina Wiesehomeier and Kirk Hawkins certainly believe they have found a way.

How is IEU helping us to understand populism?

With the help of students at IE University, a coding device called a “rubric” is being used to rate the level of populism in speeches given by important political leaders. Using 0 as “not populist” and 2 as “highly populist,” the students are looking at a variety of speeches from different countries around the world. Each side of the rubric has its own categories to identify which side of the spectrum it falls under. The scheme analyzes questions such as: Is there a stark line between drawn between good and evil? Have any enemies been identified in the speech?

The results of this project will be published in the UK newspaper The Guardian and will synthesize the global trend of populism, including where it is most prevalent and whether it has increased in recent years. Academics will also be able to use these results to answer important social questions, for example, what causes populism? How should we respond to it? Results will also be made available in an online interactive article. Soon, you will have all the answers you need on the new popular topic filling the halls at IE University.

IE University, with its internationally diverse student body, was the perfect choice for this project. The diverse range of nationalities at the university means that representatives from around the world are participating in the analysis. Speeches from over 50 countries are being placed under the microscope during this study, with participation from IE University students from around the globe.

The students themselves are also benefiting from this opportunity, gaining valuable experience with experiential learning. Who knows, maybe someday these students will be the next global leaders. With the opportunity to gain first-hand experience in creating data from a social science perspective, they will be better equipped to view global issues from a more balanced and analytical standpoint.

This project is part of a larger scheme carried out by “Team Populism,” an academic working group on populist politics around the world. Follow their work and results at

Click here to take the quiz developed from Professor Nina Wiesehomeier on how populist you are!