Populism and its Consequences for Liberal Democracy

Undergraduate course

Course description

Objectives and Content

The growth of populist radical right parties and activism during the last decades has generated a heated debate about the challenges this poses for liberal democracies. The main aim of this course is to provide an understanding of and knowledge about the consequences of populism for liberal democracy drawing on the most recent research on the tension between populism and liberal democracy. Here, the focus is on political trust, political and affective polarization, and people`s notions about what democracy is and ought to be. In doing so, the course will situate the phenomenon of populism in relation to major subfields within comparative politics, most notably public opinion, political behaviour and psychology, political parties, political institutions and activism However, the study and understanding of the consequences of populism requires insight about the development that has led to the increase in activism and populist party success. Therefore, lectures will also cover the historical roots of these phenomena, debates about the conceptualization and definition of the contested concept of populism and related terms such as the radical right, and explanations of increasing vote-shares for radical right populist parties and the rise in extra-parliamentary activism.

Learning Outcomes

A student who has completed the course should have the following learning outcomes defined in terms of knowledge, skills and general competence:


The student can

  • display an understanding of the concepts of populism in terms of competing definitions and main dimensions.
  • gain knowledge about the historical roots of populism and its importance for contemporary populist parties and movements.
  • gain an understanding of the parallel waves of extra-parliamentary activism that has spread throughout Western Europe.
  • demonstrate an ability to distinguish between different types of populism and how these relate to different models of democracy (e.g. liberal democracy and direct democracy).
  • display an understanding of the most important consequences of populism for liberal democracy, in Europe and elsewhere.


The student is able to

  • acquire a basis for critical and independent analysis of how the growth of populist parties affect representative liberal democracies in terms of political trust, polarization, and conceptions of democracy.
  • acquire basic knowledge of cross-national similarities and differences when it comes to populist parties and movements.
  • acquire insight into cross-temporal and cross-national ideological similarities and differences between present day parties and movements and those of earlier eras.

General competence

The student

  • is able to synthesize theoretical and empirical material on a given topic relevant to the course readings and topics

Semester of Instruction

Spring - irregular
Required Previous Knowledge
Recommended Previous Knowledge
Access to the Course
Open to all students at the University of Bergen
Teaching and learning methods
  • Form: Lectures
  • Hours per week: 2
  • Number of weeks: 10-12
  • Compulsory Assignments and Attendance
    Forms of Assessment

    Students have to deliver a maximum 3500 words essay by the end of the semester.

    The exam will be given in the language in which the course is taught.

    The exam can be submitted in English, Norwegian, Swedish or Danish.

    Grading Scale
    The grading scale used is A to F. Grade A is the highest passing grade in the grading scale; grade F is a fail.
    Assessment Semester

    Assessment in teaching semester.

    Re-take exams are arranged for students with valid absence according to § 5-5 of the Study Regulations at UiB. If a retake exam are arranged for students with valid absence, students with the following results can also register:

    • Interruption during the exam
    • Fail/Not passed

     If you qualify for the retake exam and a retake exam is arranged for students with valid absence, you can register yourself in Studentweb after August 1.

    Course Evaluation
    All courses are evaluated according to UiB's system for quality assurance of education.