Whether we look at Austria, France, Britain or the U.S., populist politicians are on the rise. I recently chatted with a political consultant colleague from the U.S. on how to run against a populist, right-wing candidate. At first, I think that it takes a lot of research – especially qualitative research – on how to show contrast with the populist candidate. Establishment politicians often come across as lecturing voters why they are stupid to vote for the populist candidate. Most voters are actually not extreme by nature. They sometimes vote for extreme candidates because the latter are able to express best the pain and anger voters feel. The last thing voters want is to be talked down and told that they only imagine those fears. This being said, every candidate has weaknesses but one should carefully test how to best expose these vulnerabilities.
Other than that, I’m afraid there is no secret campaign weapon on how to run against a populist candidate. This is particularly true if one is already in the middle of the campaign and already put on the defense. It takes better leaders and better policies to run against populist, right-wing candidates. Especially as an incumbent President or Prime Minister, it is possible to turn the chessboard around – but it takes some time. I think that one should start at least a year before the election with the implementation of a coherent plan neutralizing the populist, right-wing candidate.