Populism’s Second Term

Part of our "SNF Agora Conversations: Election 2020" series
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Populist leaders—including in India, Hungary, Turkey, and Venezuela—tend to win reelection, and are often unleashed in their second term, emboldened by reelection and unconstrained as career civil servants, independent judges, and critics in the media depart. President Trump deploys some of their techniques, including using his platform to divide the country into those who “belong” and those who don’t, and claiming that he alone can fix the country’s problems. But unlike those other leaders, Trump may be on the path to losing his upcoming reelection bid. Why is it that many populists manage to win a second term? And why might Trump’s fate to be different?


  • Steven Levitsky is the David Rockefeller Professor of Latin American Studies and professor of government at Harvard University. His research focuses on democratization and authoritarianism, political parties, and weak and informal institutions, with a regional focus on in Latin America. He is author of several books, including  How Democracies Die (with Daniel Ziblatt).
  • Sarah Longwell is the president and CEO of Longwell Partners, a full-service communications firm in Washington, D.C. She is also a co-founder of the organization Defending Democracy Together; publisher of The Bulwark; and chief strategist for Republic Affairs, a nonprofit dedicated to strengthening our country’s core values and institutions.
  • Yascha Mounk, moderator, is an SNF Agora Senior Fellow. He is a political scientist known for his work on the rise of populism and the crisis of liberal democracy. He is a contributing editor at The Atlantic and author of several books, including The People vs Democracy: Why Our Freedom is In Danger and How to Save It.