How Are Populist Attitudes Activated? Understanding Revolutionary Mobilization in Kyrgyzstan

In: Central Asian Affairs
Ajar Chekirova Assistant Professor of Politics, Department of Politics and International Relations, Lake Forest College Lake Forest, IL USA

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Populist mobilization may take different forms. It can be either revolutionary, through social movements, or electoral, through political parties, but is often a mixture of both under the leadership of a populist persona. The October Revolution in Kyrgyzstan provides an opportunity to look beyond classical cases of populist mobilization in Europe and the Americas to uncover key factors that cause existing populist attitudes to become activated and mobilized. Political science literature points to the root causes of populist uprisings as coming from either the supply-side perspective, meaning populist rhetoric and institutional conditions that induce the appearance of populist parties, or the demand-side perspective, meaning individual attitudes that predict support for populists. These theories of populism may do well at explaining American or European varieties of populist mobilization, but they fail to capture Kyrgyzstan’s experience. Thus, drawing on ideational theory that emphasizes the interplay between populist attitudes, elite rhetoric, and contextual factors, this study employs World Values Survey (WVS) data from 2003, 2011, and 2020—three pivotal pre-revolutionary or post-revolutionary periods. This allows for the investigation of not only the changes in attitudes but also crucial contextual factors that determined the outcome of the October Revolution. The findings show that, on the demand-side, populist ideas have always been widespread, but required specific material conditions, including explosive corruption scandals and the COVID-19 crisis, and populist cues from the supply-side to become activated.

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