The exploration of links between rising social inequalities and forms of democratic decline, notably populism, is a current area of research.
The issue is complex, as social inequality, and changes in it, exist in manifold forms. Economic indicators such as income and property, or expected future income (e.g. over one’s individual life course) can be consulted. Inequalities in forms of political participation can be analysed. Socio-cultural differences; social and cultural capital, are yet another perspective. Finally, inequalities, ruptures, divides in communication and organisation must regarded – be it as an infrastructure of political representation, i.e. between representatives and represented; or between whole social milieus, i.e. social dis-integration. Ruptures in social experience and social identity must be understood in relation to these types of developments.
We are here merely citing a small number of (political-)economic indicators, which however, already, seem to make a point: at the very least, a co-incidence of a rise in socio-economic inequality and populism is given.
The following graphics are (C) of the World Inequality Database (World Inequality Report 2017, if not indicated differently). They give an idea of the rise in income inequality in some regions of the world as well as of which groups may have been in particular affected by stagnation: notably, the lower middle classes of industrialised countries.
Thomas Pikkety (2018) shows how centre-left parties across the industrialised countries are today no more representing low-income groups – but relatively high-income and notably, high-educated social groups. The author notes that this amounts to a double-elite: a wealthy conservative and a high-educated centre-left(-liberal) elite, each represented by the old, established, 20th-century centre-left / centre-right party. Low-income groups, in this logic, will be represented – by populist parties.
The following graphics are (c) of:
Thomas Pikkety, Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017), WID.world WORKING PAPER SERIES N° 2018/7