Impact of Populism on the Party System in Slovakia 2000–2020

Andrej Školkay
School of Communication and Media

This study employed a threefold criterion of increase, relative stability or decline of support for populist parties between two time points, 2000 and 2020 (originally meant to be based on the “Timbro Authoritarian Populism Index”)(Kubát, 2020). As we explain further, for comparison we actually selected 2002 and 2020 periods when general elections were held, with some additional in-between key periods (following general elections) considered. The research approach was based on hypothesis that there are four clusters of European democracies in which the support for populists varied (case selection based on typical examples). In particular, it was assumed that Slovakia was a democracy in which the support for populist parties was smaller in 2020 than in 2000 (but not trivial) (Kubát, 2020). This key hypothesis was not proved – however, the correct answer to this hypothesis very much depends on definitions, tools and sources used, as well as period in question (a few months can make a huge difference, as well as factors such electoral period, successful or not election campaign, or being in opposition or in government), as we shall discuss futher.
Furthermore, the research seeked to test the following hypotheses (Kubát, 2020): representation gap hypothesis (populist parties pursue a strategy that is designed to exploit gaps of representation by means of emphasizing new or re-vitalizing old conflicts); contagion hypothesis (the rise of populist parties is accompanied with an overall diffusion of populist ideas in the policy agenda of non-populist parties); polarisation hypothesis (the rise of populist parties makes party systems more acutely polarised); elective affinity coalition hypothesis (populist parties enter governing coalitions with other populist parties and also with non-populist parties if the latter also employ at least one of the typical themes of populist discourse, e.g., nationalist, nativist, ant-establishment, Eurosceptic themes)(Kubát, 2020). The results are partly different than expected according to these hypotheses, and they should also be explained differently in some aspects (i.e. not necessarily by definition normatively negatively).
After this introduction, and further below discussion about methodological challenges, with the aim to test above mentioned hypotheses, we introduce political context, followed by discussion on the role of populist parties play in the political life of the country, explaining longevity and success or failures of some populist parties in the political arena. We discuss whether rise of populist parties is accompanied with an overall diffusion of populist ideas in the policy agenda of non-populist parties. We also attempted to identify what type of political party system exists in Slovakia and why is this so.