The growing success of populist parties from across the political spectrum in Europe calls for an examination of the populist phenomenon in a comparative perspective. Despite different contexts and underlying causes, populism and populist parties appear to be equally successful in the East and West. Prof. Zankina offers a new theoretical approach to the study of populism that views the phenomenon as a political strategy that reduces the transaction costs of politics by increasing the use of informal political institutions, which have an association with “direct” and “immediate” action, and decreasing the use of formal political institutions, which have connotations of slowness or non-action. This “transaction-cost framework” has several advantages: 1) it takes into account informal institutions (including the media and social media mobilization, quasi-political entities and actors with stakes in political outcomes, 2) it allows for better understanding of voter behavior and voter support for populist parties, avoiding the leader and party bias in research, and, 3) introduces a dynamics-based component which helps understand the rise and evolution of populist parties and changes in their voter support.
Emilia Zankina is an Associate Professor in Political Science and Provost of the American University in Bulgaria. She holds a Ph.D. in International Affairs and a Certificate in Advanced East European Studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Her research examines democratization and elite transformation in Eastern Europe, populism, civil service reform, and gender political representation. She has published in reputable journals and presses such as West European Politics, East European Politics, Problems of Post-communism, Representation, ECPR Press, Indiana Press, and more. In the past, Zankina has served as Associate Director of the Center for Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, Managing Editor of East European Politics and Societies, and Editor-in-Chief of the Newsletter of the Bulgarian Studies Association. She is the recipient of a number of U.S. national grants from IREX, ACLS, American Councils, Wilson Center, and more. Her research spans topics such as populism in Europe, gender and politics, and civil service reform in Eastern Europe.