Populism and health policy: three international case studies of right-wing populist policy frames

Ewen Speed, Russell Mannion

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
304 Downloads (Pure)


Over the past decade, some of the world's most stable parliamentary democracies have witnessed a revival in right‐wing populist political parties, movements and leaders. Although there is a growing body of theoretical and empirical literature documenting the rise of populism, there has been very little exploration of the implications for health policy of this important political development. In this article, we draw from three illustrative international cases, originating from the USA, the UK and Italy, to explore the ways in which right‐wing populism influences health policy: the election of President Trump in the United States (and subsequent healthcare reforms), the United Kingdom's vote to withdraw from the European Union (Brexit), and how this has played out in the context of the UK National Health Service, and the rise of a politically aligned anti‐vaccination movement in Italy. Drawing on the work of the influential socio‐political theorist Ernesto Laclau, we interpret populism as a performative political act, predicated on drawing logics of equivalence (and difference) between different actors. We use this theoretical framing to explore the ways in which the recent upsurge in right‐wing populism creates a specific set of barriers and challenges for access to healthcare and the health of populations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1967-1981
Number of pages15
JournalSociology of Health and Illness
Issue number8
Early online date11 Aug 2020
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank the members of the European Health Policy Group who provided very useful comments on an earlier draft of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors. Sociology of Health & Illness published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of Foundation for SHIL (SHIL)

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Affordable Care Act
  • Laclau
  • anti-vaccination
  • comparative politics
  • health policy
  • populism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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