Housing and populism

Ben Ansell, Professor of Comparative Democratic Institutions, has co-authored a new article with David Adler, Policy Director of the Democracy in Europe Movement 2025, on the links between house prices and populism.

Abstract

The recent success of populist candidates in the UK and Continental Europe has sparked a major debate between those who view populism as a reaction of the economically ‘left behind’ and those who view it as a cultural ‘backlash’ by groups with declining social status, pointing to stark divisions between urban and rural areas, core and periphery. This paper bridges the economic and values-based approaches to populism by arguing that the geography of wealth inequality offers a convincing explanation for the pattern of populist vote share. Drawing on fine-grained house price data in the UK and France, it is shown that the pattern of house prices ‒ even within small districts ‒ plays a major part in shaping support for Brexit and Marine Le Pen. The findings illustrate how longstanding variation in local wealth shapes the geography of discontent and drives populist appeal. Populism, the article concludes, is primarily a politics of place, and place is a product, in part, of the housing market.

Professor Ben Ansell is Professor of Comparative Democratic Institutions, Nuffield College, Director of Graduate Students Professional Training