Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format

Integrated Article


Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science


de Clercy, Cristine


This dissertation investigates the electoral phenomenon of the populist radical right (PRR) in the United States. The main venue for analysis is internal party competition within the conservative Republican Party for its nominations. The thesis draws extensively on European PRR literature, which has explored the roots of these parties’ electoral successes overseas, and applies insights gleaned to the American context. It is divided into three articles, each of which explores a Republican nomination campaign in-depth and applies lessons learned from the European literature to the American case. These cases are Pat Buchanan’s unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 1996, Donald Trump’s successful 2016 run for the same office, and the 2018 Arizona US Senate primary. The cases demonstrate, respectively, that Pat Buchanan fared well among voters who shared his issue priorities, though his supporters did not disproportionately receive their news about candidates from newspapers; those who felt betrayed by the Republican Party were not more likely to support Donald Trump during the primaries, despite his frequent attacks on the Party and its leadership; and supporters of PRR candidates in the Arizona primary were more likely to hold skeptical views of immigration, more likely to receive their news from social media, and more likely to be critical of “Republicans in Name Only” and to perceive no difference between the Republican and Democratic establishments. Ultimately, the dissertation provides mixed evidence for the applicability of European-derived theories in the American context.

Summary for Lay Audience

The American right-wing has changed in recent years. Today, the Republican Party belongs to Donald Trump and his allies. More traditional Republicans have been sidelined in favour of what political scientist Cas Mudde calls the “populist radical right,” (PRR) a political movement characterized by a rejection of elite influence (populism), anti-immigrant sentiment (nativism), and a belief in a strong government that harshly enforces norms (authoritarianism). This brand of right-wing politics has been ascendant in Europe and this dissertation seeks to address questions about how the lessons learned from the European experience can apply in the United States. It opens with a review of the European literature, as well as a discussion of the American presidential nomination process, and proceeds into three chapters, each covering a Republican nomination contest.

Chapter 2 reviews Pat Buchanan’s failed bid for the 1996 Republican presidential nomination through the lens of “issue salience,” evaluating whether his support was tied to the importance of PRR issues to the electorate. A review of several televised debates and exit polling data from the New Hampshire primary suggest that Buchanan was more successful among those who prioritized PRR issues and that he spent more time focusing on those issues during the campaign.

Chapter 3 jumps to 2016, when Donald Trump captured the Republican nomination. The European literature is full of examples of voters seeking alternatives where mainstream conservative parties are viewed as too cozy with their opposition. This chapter explores if a similar phenomenon was present in 2016. I use exit polling data to assess whether Trump’s frequent anti-Republican rhetoric endeared him to voters who felt betrayed by the Republican Party and find that it did not.

Finally, Chapter 4 covers the 2018 US Senate primary in Arizona, demonstrating that those who supported PRR candidates in the primary were more likely to consume social media news and were more likely to believe that there were no major differences between the Republican establishment and the Democratic Party.

Taken together, these articles demonstrate that, in some cases, insight derived from the study of European right-wing movements can apply in the United States.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.