If the 2010s were the years in which predominantly far-right, populist parties permeated the political mainstream, then the 2020s will be when voters “are going to see the consequences of that,” Daphne Halikiopoulou, an associate professor of comparative politics at the University of Reading, in England, told me. In some ways, they already have. In Britain, the 2016 vote to leave the European Union—and the political fallout it caused—is likely to be fulfilled at the end of January, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s resounding victory in last month’s general election. Elsewhere, populist parties have already made their impact—if not through passing legislation at the head of government, then by applying pressure in opposition.
Though this populist phenomenon rose to international consciousness in the past decade, its roots in fact stretch back further. In Austria, the right-wing Freedom Party served in a governing coalition from 2000 to 2005. During that same period, Britain’s U.K. Independence Party was on the ascent. In France, the far-right National Front advanced to the runoff of the 2002 presidential election (an achievement the party, which has since been renamed the National Rally, replicated in 2017). Countless other populist leaders already held power in countries such as Bolivia, Israel, and Hungary.
What the 2010s did, however, was give populist parties the ecosystem they needed to thrive—due to, among other things, the consequences of the 2008 global financial crash and the digital revolution. While the former contributed to greater inequality and the rejection of mainstream parties that were perceived to be perpetuating it, the latter resulted in the “transformation of … everyday life,” Catherine Fieschi, the executive director of the London-based consultancy Counterpoint and the author of Populocracy: The Tyranny of Authenticity and the Rise of Populism, told me. “We’ve become much more impatient; we don’t understand why things aren’t always just a click away. If Amazon Prime can do it, why can’t [the government] revamp the benefit system more quickly?”
In the 2020s, we will likely see many of the same characters who defined the previous decade remain at the fore. Italy’s Matteo Salvini, the leader of the far-right and nativist League party, has pledged to return to government as prime minister—and, if successful, to forge alliances with like-minded leaders, including Johnson and Trump. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has signaled that he will press forward with his quest to further his Hindu-nationalist agenda—including defending his contentious Citizenship Amendment Act, which has spurred weeks of protests. In France, the National Rally, still buoyant after its European Parliament victory last spring, is setting its sights on consolidating local support through the country’s upcoming municipal elections.