The Project

DEMOS (Democratic Efficacy and the Varieties of Populism in Europe) is a research and innovation project studying populism and its impacts on democracy. Funded by the EU Horizon 2020 Framework Programme, the project is carried out by 15 partner institutions in Europe and involves 10 scientific disciplines. DEMOS investigates the phenomenon of populism through the lenses of democratic efficacy. The idea combines attitudinal features (political efficacy), political skills, knowledge, and democratic opportunity structures. A novelty, democratic efficacy is understood as a condition of political engagement needed to address the challenges of populism. 

Specifically, DEMOS addresses under-researched aspects of populism at micro-, meso-, and macro-levels: its socio-psychological roots, social actors’ responses to the populist challenge, and populism’s effects on governance. DEMOS focuses not only on the polity, but equally on citizens’ perspectives: how they are affected by, and how they react to, populism. Politically underrepresented groups and those targeted by populist politics are a particular focus. Examples include youth, women, and migrants. 

As populism has varying socially embedded manifestations, DEMOS aims at contextualising it through comparative analysis on the variety of populisms across Europe, including their historical, cultural, and socioeconomic roots, manifestations, and impacts. DEMOS develops indicators and predictors of populism and elaborates scenarios on the interactions of populism with social actors and institutions both at the national and the EU levels.

DEMOS combines in-depth research on populism and democratic efficacy with action research and pilot projects in order to develop lasting tools and timely policy recommendations. Project methods include experiments, deliberative polling, text mining, surveys, and legal analysis. DEMOS places strong emphasis on communication and productive interactions with a variety of stakeholders throughout the project, including policymakers, journalists, students, and the general public. Follow the project social media channels for regular updates.


The project work plan consists of 11 Work Packages (WP) of which three are dedicated to managing, communicating, and validating project results and eight to researching different streams about populism and democracy. DEMOS will disseminate all results arising from the work plan on an ongoing basis on this website and its social media. The project started in December 2018 and will wrap up results and activities in November 2021. Learn more about the consortium and reach out to us here.

WP1 - Management (led by Centre for Social Sciences, Centre of Excellence of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, CSS)
This Work Package organizes and implements administrative and financial management of DEMOS. Work is carried out to ensure quality communication between consortium members and with the European Commission, which funds the project. Activities also include monitoring work progress, reporting, ethics assurance, and quality data management.

WP2 - State of the art and conceptualization: varieties of populism (led by Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy, ELIAMEP)
To understand populism today, this Work Package investigates populism from comparative and historical perspectives. It conducts analysis of populism as a transnational phenomenon, comparing manifestations of populism with special focus on charismatic leadership, characters of new political parties as well as the role of media, socio-economics mutations, and the change of politico-economic paradigms. Outputs are aimed to conceptualize and operationalize populism for research and to define the varieties of populism.

WP3 - Conceptualizing and measuring democratic efficacy (led by Kaunas University of Technology, KTU)
The goal is to find innovative ways of addressing the causes of populism and strategies for strengthening democratic values, and so this WP focus on youth and the role of schools. It also aims to elaborate the concept of democratic efficacy and defining indicators. Patterns of democratic efficacy are studied in a comparative perspective to promote democratic efficacy.

WP4 - Social and social psychological roots of populism and democratic efficacy (led by University of Amsterdam, UVA)
This Work Package analyzes populism, using sociological, cultural, and gender-based explanations. It assesses the perceptions of elitism, the role of negative orientations, and nationalism. The role of emotions, narratives of supporters of populism, and information and cognitive processing styles in the formation of populist opinions will be investigated. 

WP5 - Populist policymaking and populism in governance (led by Centre for Social Sciences, Centre of Excellence of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, CSS)
How do populist parties in governments evolve and how does populism affect policymaking processes? Would there be any impacts on the European project? This Work Package explores policy patterns of populist political actors when they are in power, and identifies the fundamental policy conflicts between EU policies and populist policies in critical policy areas. This Work Package will result in policy suggestions for non-populist political actors.

WP6 - Impacts of populism: law, politics, and people (led by University of Barcelona, UB)
Are there consequences of populism on European democracies? How do legal concepts and processes interact with populism? This Work Package assesses such impacts, covering as well the effects of populism on people, especially vulnerable groups who are regularly targeted by populist discourse.

WP7 - Responding to populism: democratic efficacy at work (led by University of Turin, UNITO)
If there are negative consequences of populism on democracy, how can society at large strengthen democratic values and practices? With that in mind, this Work Package explores the main features of citizens' reactions to populism — and identifies potential civic influencers and multipliers of results for anti-populist activities. The role of news media and journalism in perceiving and reacting to populism in politics will be analyzed so that the product of this Work Package will result in scenarios on media and populism.

WP8 - Improving democratic efficacy: action research and pilot projects (led by European Citizen Action Service, ECAS)
Can schools and digital media improve new forms of democratic participation? This Work Package builds on the results of previous WPs to conduct pilot projects to ground intervention strategies to address populism and improve democratic efficacy. Educational tools, and deliberative polls will test effectiveness of empirical results and will result in a recipe to address democratic efficacy at the individual and institutional levels. 

WP9 - Synthesis and policy recommendations (led by School of Communication and Media, SKAMBA)
This Work Package develops indicators and medium- to long-term scenarios on the consequences of populism, the effective potential of addressing the challenge through democratic efficacy, and policy proposals to address the phenomenon across Europe.

WP10 - Quality Assurance Plan (led by University of Hamburg, UHAM)
This Work Package lays out a framework for project validation. It does so by establishing quality mechanisms through which the workflow operates. The framework ensures that the project reaches its objectives of delivering innovative research with the highest international standards. Validation is done in close collaboration with a team of eight international experts in a variety of scientific disciplines. These reputable scholars and practitioners are DEMOS's Advisory Board members.

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