Gabor Scheiring, PhD
Political Economist, Public Sociologist
Marie Curie Fellowship project
Department of Social and Political Sciences
European Commission H2020 Marie Curie Actions
Currently, I am a Marie Curie Fellow at Bocconi, working on the PHASE research project: How is Populism and Health Associated in Europe? A multilevel analysis of the bidirectional interrelationship between populism and ill health.
The PHASE research project analyses the bidirectional multilevel interrelationship between populism and health. It crosscuts scholarly polarisations on the causes of populism by posing the original question of whether individuals’ ill health might be an early warning sign for the deteriorating health of democracies in Europe. The project also extends the literature on the impact of populist governance by analyzing the winners and losers of populists in power in terms of health.
You find the publications related to the PHASE project at the bottom of this page.
Why should you care?
The election of Donald Trump, the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, and the growing electoral support for populist and authoritarian parties earmark a new populist phase of politics. In parallel, several regions in Europe show worsening health indicators, such as mental health, suicides, and a return of diseases of poverty, as well as a return of vaccine-preventable conditions. Regions with heavy industrial legacies that experienced a decline in manufacturing employment are particularly prone to multifaceted health problems, which in turn might increase the support for populist parties. Increasingly, populist parties are gaining enough support to form governments, either alone, or in a coalition, both in the west (Austria, Denmark), it the south (Italy) as well as in the east (Hungary, Poland) of Europe. Once in power, populists often discriminate against precarious communities, divert resources away from universal public services, and question the role of expertise, thus potentially aggravating health problems. These developments have led to the speculation that ill health and suffering may be contributing to populism, and conversely, that populist governments might lead to worse population health.
Health is the first societal challenge in the EU Horizon 2020 strategy and a UN sustainable development goal (SDG), with fundamental implications for people’s everyday experiences about socio-economic change, and repercussions for democratic politics. Several public health and sociological fora have emphasized the centrality of the health-populism association. Editorials in The Lancet and Acta Sociologica, as well as a recent declaration by the Human Rights Forum of the American Public Health Association, are among the most recent testimonies. However, the topic is still ‘an important but under-researched area’. Using a mixed-method multilevel cross-country comparative approach, the PHASE project fills this gap. The project extends on my previous work on the multilevel association between economic change and health, and the social foundations of authoritarian populism in Eastern Europe.
The diagram below presents an overview of the beneficiaries and the contribution of the PHASE project
Long project summary
The recent surge in populism marks a new phase of European politics posing fundamental challenges to scholars and the policy community. Some argue that existing nationalist and authoritarian attitudes are driving populism. Others posit that it is rooted in liberal institutions’ failure to deliver equal life chances. Once in power, populists tend to discriminate against precarious communities and question the role of expertise in governance. However, there is no systematic cross-country research on the bi-directional association between ill health and populism. The project contributes to the existing knowledge in two ways. Firstly, it crosscuts scholarly polarisations on the causes of populism by posing the original question of whether individuals’ ill health might be an early warning sign for the deteriorating health of democracies in Europe. Secondly, it extends the literature on the impact of populist governance by asking who are the winners and losers of populists in power in terms of health in Europe. In answer to the first question, the project creates a longitudinal, hierarchical cross-country panel dataset, nesting individuals in EU regions, and measures the impact of ill health on populist support after 2000. In answer to the second question, the project adopts a coding scheme for populist governments in Europe and assesses the variegated impact of populism on peoples’ health using dynamic multilevel modelling. Finally, through a small-N case study, the project analyses the populism – ill health mechanism in detail. The project offers theoretically innovative and methodologically rigorous, cutting-edge contributions to sociology, political science, and public health, as well as to the public debate on populism through a set of outreach activities. The project also includes a personalized training program, collaborative research, and secondment to a think tank.
The conceptual framework of the project, including the main variables (rectangles), the causal mechanisms (thick lines), some of the potential background factors (circles and dashed lines), as well as the ensuing work packages and studies are summarised in the figure below.
Publications and documents
Moise, A.D., G. Scheiring & O. Löblová. 2021. "Populist Radical Right and Health in Hungary." In The Populist Radical Right and Health: National Policies and Global Trends, eds. M. Falkenbach & S.L. Greer. Cham, Springer.
In contrast to often peripheral Western European populist radical right parties, Fidesz has held a supermajority in the Hungarian parliament since 2010 and has therefore been in a unique position to formulate and implement policy, constrained chiefly by the preferences of its broad electorate and past campaign promises. This chapter analyzes Fidesz’s health policy measures since 2010. It concludes that Fidesz has employed a mix of policy approaches in health care, including statist, liberal chauvinistic, and clientelistic reforms. Fidesz’s direct impact on healthcare is mixed: its smoking ban has been praised by international observers, whereas the continued underfunding of the health system has done little to improve care and population health outcomes. By undermining the welfare state with a shift to “workfare society”, the party has arguably had a clearer indirect impact on health, adversely affecting population health by increasing social insecurity and income and wealth inequality. Unlike its Western European populist radical right counterparts who tend to adopt clearer welfare chauvinistic or liberal chauvinistic approaches to health and social policy, Fidesz’s health care reforms do not fit into any current single concept of welfare state change.
In press, check out the book's website.
Moise, A.D., G. Scheiring & O. Löblová. 2020. Populist Radical Right and Health in Hungary. Presented at the 16th World Congress on Public Health, 12-16 October 2020, Rome, Italy.
A presentation based on the research the was also summarized as a book chapter listed above. You can check out the presentation here.
Scheiring, G. 2021. "Deaths of Despair and the Health of Democracy: Challenges for Sociology." Global Dialogue, vol. 11, no. 1, 11-13.
The health of people and the health of democracy are intertwined. People left behind in regions struck by diseases of despair, and workers facing precarity and the prospect of downward mobility, have a higher tendency to support populist insurgents. Trump’s popularity in health-deprived regions of the US, the high share of Brexit votes in the unhealthiest towns in the UK hit by years of austerity, and the rising popularity of Lega Nord among workers in deindustrialized towns in Italy are cases in point.
Read the full text of the article here.
Scheiring, G. 2020. "Orbanomics and Populist Health Crisis Management in Hungary." REALEURASIA Blog, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, May 19, 2020.
The policy logic behind the government’s responses to Covid-19 corresponds to the logic of Orbanomics: workfare, social divestment, capitalism for the poor, socialism for the rich. This health crisis is just another opportunity to push ahead with this authoritarian capitalist agenda: democracy and political competition must be restricted to prevent a backlash from the victims of Viktor Orbán’s illiberal populism.
Read the full text of the article here.
Scheiring, G. 2020. "Health, Inequality and Democracy in the Light of the Corona Crisis." The Progressive Post, Apr 23 2020.
The first phase of the battle against the coronavirus is getting close to its end. However, as John Maynard Keynes warned, it is not enough to win the war but we need to win the peace too. Already before the current one, Europe was facing a multiplicity of crises, each potentially deadlier than the corona crisis. Only bold, progressive cooperation can save the future of Europe.
Read the full text of the article here.
Scheiring, G. 2020. "The Future Is Progressive, or It’s Dead." Left.it, 22 April 2020.
Thousands are still dying each day because of the coronavirus, but Italy is now leading the downward trend with the rate of spread decreasing. Complacency would be a deadly mistake, but we have reason to believe that the end of the worst phase of the battle is near. However, as Keynes said, after winning the war, there is still a chance to lose the peace. Europe is facing a multiplicity of crises, each potentially deadlier than the corona crisis: a crisis of economic valuation, a health crisis, a democratic crisis and an environmental crisis. As a former progressive MP in Hungary, now an academic living in Italy, I see some frightening similarities between the two countries – but some dim hopes too. There is no question: returning to business as usual will create more suffering than we have seen in the past month.
Read the full text of the article here, also in Italian.
Data management plan v1.0 – PHASE / 890187
The purpose of this document is to describe the data management life cycle for all data sets that will be collected, processed, or generated by the PHASE project. The Data Management Plan (DMP) outlines how the research data will be handled during the project and after it is completed. It describes what data will be collected/generated, what methodology and standards are used, whether and how this data will be shared and made open, and how it will be curated and preserved. The Plan describes the measures taken to enable third parties to access, mine, exploit, reproduce, and disseminate (free of charge for any user) the research data. The project’s DMP is based on the template provided in the Guidelines on FAIR Data Management in Horizon 2020.
Here is the full data management plan in pdf.
This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie grant agreement No 890187.