Matthew Rhodes-Purdy et al., "The Age of Discontent: Populism, Extremism, and Conspiracy Theories in Contemporary Democracies" (Cambridge UP, 2023)


How do we explain the rise of populism, extremism, and conspiracy theory in the Americas and Europe? Why do members of a society come to feel this strong sense of discontent with their political system – so deep and broad that they believe the system to be irreparably broken? Scholars have explained these phenomena using two main models. The first focuses on economics and imagines the source of discontent is long-term economic change that creates winners and losers. An alternative model posits that cultural factors such as hostility to ethnic, racial, and gender minorities is more significant than economic attitudes. In The Age of Discontent, Drs. Rhodes-Purdy, Navarre, and Utych build on these models by combining the insights of political science with a tool from political psychology: affective intelligence theory. If emotions shape cognition and behavior, economic and cultural backlash might be better understood as sequential. The book argues that economic discontent is often the root cause but this begins a chain. Economic discontent leads to negative emotions that trigger cultural attitudes such as out-group hostility or in-group solidarity. The book presents a compelling theoretical framework the authors call “affective political economy.” Economic troubles can prime citizens to embrace culturally discontented narratives, leading to various forms of discontent based on local conditions.

The Age of Discontent: Populism, Extremism, and Conspiracy Theories in Contemporary Democracies (Cambridge UP, 2023) uses qualitative and quantitative methods to examine American sentiments of discontent expressed primarily during the Trump administration, Euroscepticism, and Brexit in the UK, and Spain to examine the interactions of economic and cultural issues across the globe. By examining case studies of democratic discontent in different regions and contrasting them with case studies in which discontent was avoided, the book demonstrates how economic crises trigger cultural responses, intensifying discontent with the political status quo.

Two books mentioned during the podcast are David Goodhart, The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics (Oxford UP, 2017) and

Elizabeth Anderson, Private Government: How Employers Rule Our Lives (and why we Don’t Talk about It) (Princeton UP, 2017) previously covered by the New Books Network.

Dr. Matthew Rhodes-Purdy is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Clemson University. He is the author of Regime Support Beyond the Balance Sheet (2017).

Dr. Rachel Navarre is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Bridgewater State University. She co-authored Immigration in the 21st Century: The Comparative Politics of Immigration Policy (2020) with Dr. Terri Givens and Pete Mohanty – and Lilly Goren interviewed them previously on New Books in Political Science.

Dr. Stephen Utych is a market researcher with an area focus on political psychology, political behavior, and experimental methods. Dr. Uthych has published over thirty peer-reviewed articles. 

Daniela Lavergne served as the editorial assistant for this podcast.

Susan Liebell is Dirk Warren '50 Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

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Susan Liebell

Susan Liebell is a Professor of Political Science at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia.

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