Date of Completion

Spring 5-1-2018

Project Advisor(s)

Virginia Hettinger, Peter Baldwin, Kimberly Bergendahl

University Scholar Major

Political Science


American Politics


Populist rhetoric is a political language employed by individual leaders which divides the populace into two categories: a pure, moral people and a corrupt elite. In this paper, I examine Donald Trump as a populist, focusing on Moffit’s political style approach (Moffit 2016) and Mudde’s definition of populism as an ideology (Mudde 2004). Listening to speeches from the campaign, I study how the components of these definitions of populism apply to Trump. I also examine the groups that Trump defined as “the people,” “the elite,” and the “undeserving minority groups.” I argue that while Trump does exhibit certain behaviors expected of populists, he is far from a perfect fit into the existing definitions. Trump also attacks certain groups that have been attacked by past right-wing populists in America, but also includes new groups, namely donors, special interests, lobbyists, and “big business.” The mainly performative, exclusionary populism that Trump demonstrated on the campaign trail is dangerous to the civic health of a democracy as it attacks key institutions and norms and can be largely disconnected from actual policy outcomes.