Authoritarian Populism Index.

The Authoritarian Populism Index is developed by Timbro.

Timbro is the leading free market think tank in the Nordic countries. Our mission is to promote and disseminate ideas supporting the principles of free markets, free enterprise, individual liberty and a free society. Timbro was founded in 1978 by Sture Eskilsson and the Swedish Employers’ Association, a precursor to the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise.  Since 2003, Timbro is financed by the Swedish Free Enterprise Foundation.


International outreach and translation supported by Friedrich Naumann Foundation and Atlas Network.


Populism Rank: 5


Voter support for radical left in last elections (2023): 0%.
Voter support for radical right in last elections: -6,2%.
Populist or radical parties in government (March 2024): none
Number of radical or populist MEP:s (2019): 27/52

01 Speakers

Poland was the first country in Eastern Europe where the communist party was forced to loosen its grip and allow free elections. At the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall, there were few observers who predicted that Poland, alongside Hungary, would be the country where authoritarian populism would achieve the greatest success.


After the fall of the communist regime in 1989, Poland’s party system rapidly evolved into a chaotic pluralism and fragmentation during the early 1990s, with as many as 29 parties winning seats after the first elections in 1991. Ahead of the 1993 election, a threshold percentage was introduced, significantly reducing the number of parties and allowing for more stable governments.

Despite the plurality of parties, the only nationalist party to gather support in the 1990s were the Confederation for Independent Poland, founded already in 1979. It is only borderline populist, however.


In the late 1990s, Poland experienced an economic downturn, with shrinking GDP and rising unemployment, alongside unpopular structural adjustments to prepare for EU membership. Dissatisfaction was high when, shortly after the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, Poles went to the polls for the fourth time since democracy was established. Voters sought a political overhaul, ousting the ruling Christian Democrats and liberals from both power and parliament. Instead, the Social Democrats emerged as the largest party, while several populist parties made huge gains. 


The agrarian-populist Self-Defense unexpectedly became the country’s third-largest party, making Andrzej Lepper, party leader and former boxer, a prominent figure amid concerns about right-wing populism in Europe during the early 2000s. SD had no previous electoral successes, but they garnered significant media attention after organising roadblocks, throwing potatoes at the Ministry of Agriculture, throwing frozen chickens from a food importer’s warehouse, and other spectacular protest actions against economic reform policies.


The Polish Family League (LPR) was the modest name of a highly reactionary party established just ahead of the election. Like Self-Defense, they opposed EU membership and benefited from dissatisfaction with economic reforms, but the party also distinguished itself through its tough anti-abortion stance. Thanks to constant advertising on the Catholic (and primarily anti-Semitic) radio channel Radio Maryja, they reached many right-wing Catholic voters.

Andrzej Lepper

The LPR can be seen as a continuation of a nationalist tradition going back to Roman Dmowski, one of the most important Polish ideologists of the interwar period. According to Dmowski, Catholicism constituted the essence of the Polish nation. In other words, a non-Catholic could never be Polish. The goal must therefore be an ethnically and religiously homogeneous country (which Poland became as a result of the Holocaust, the expulsion of Germans, and the border changes after World War II). It was in this deeply antisemitic tradition that LPR was formed in 2001 – in Warsaw, for example, they convinced the then mayor Lech Kaczynski (a few years before he became president) to erect a statue of Dmowski.


Alongside antisemitism, Polish nationalism also harbours a very strong anti-German sentiment. Lepper, for example, could kill two birds with one stone with statements such as “the Germans are an even greater threat to our nation than the Jews.” He compared EU membership to the German invasion of 1939. And even in the 2023 election campaign, opposition to Germany was strong, with Law and Justice stirring up the long-settled question of German war reparations and repeatedly portraying Donald Tusk as a “German lapdog”.


Ahead of the 2001 election, the two parties that came to dominate Polish politics in the 21st century were also formed: Law and Justice (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO). Both had roots leading back to Solidarity and various smaller parties in the 1990s. Both entered parliament and gradually strengthened their position in opposition to the increasingly unpopular Social Democrats.

Jarosław Kaczyński.

PiS was founded in 2001 by Jarosław Kaczyński, aiming to leverage the popularity of his twin brother, Lech. Initially, PiS focused on anti-corruption and “law and order” principles, encapsulated in slogans such as “Fourth Republic,” highlighting the need for a conservative shift away from perceived post-communist corruption in Poland. It positioned itself as a champion for the disenfranchised, addressing those left behind amid Poland’s economic transformation following communism’s collapse.


The left-wing government that ruled Poland in the early 2000s had managed to implement well-needed economic reforms and successfully concluded membership negotiations with the EU (Poland became a member in the spring of 2004). However, this was overshadowed by a corruption scandal where it was revealed that the government, through intermediaries, had offered to tailor media legislation for an international TV company in exchange for money in the right pockets. The voters’ verdict was harsh: in the 2005 election, the government was voted out and instead PiS and PO emerged as the two largest parties, a position they have both retained in all elections since then. It was, incidentally, the first and only time in Poland that all parties in parliament were re-elected and no new party was voted in.


Failed government negotiations between PiS and PO resulted in PiS forming a coalition with Self-Defense and LPR. It is worth noting that Poland has never practically applied any strategy of isolation against fringe parties, regardless of how extreme they have been. President Kwasniewski in fact did label Self-Defense as antidemocratic and sometimes refused to invite them to consultations, but there have been open doors between all parties in parliament.


The government coalition lasted for one year. Lepper, who took the position as Minister of Agriculture, was himself accused of both corruption and sexual harassment. He resigned, a government crisis led to new elections in 2007, and both Self-Defense and LPR disappeared from Polish politics never to return.


However, the demand for populism, nationalism, and xenophobic rhetoric did not cease with these parties. Instead, it was picked up to an even greater extent by Law and Justice, as well as by a number of smaller parties that emerged and sometimes achieved some success on the right-wing. 


Returning to power in 2015 after two terms in opposition marked a pivotal moment for PiS, signalling a resurgence of nationalist and populist sentiments in Poland,. However, their tenure has been marred by persistent conflicts with the European Union, particularly concerning attempts to exert control over the judiciary, law enforcement, and media institutions. These actions reflect a broader ideological struggle between PiS’s vision of national sovereignty and EU norms on democracy and the rule of law.

Andrzej Duda.

Despite EU warnings and condemnation, PiS pushed forward with controversial reforms, including changes to the appointment of judges and media regulations. These moves sparked domestic and international criticism, with accusations of undermining democratic principles and eroding institutional checks and balances. PiS’s assertive approach to governance polarised Polish society and intensified divisions within the country’s political landscape.


In January 2016, two months after Law and Justice came to power, President Andrzej Duda signed a law granting the government the power to appoint heads of public radio and TV, previously overseen by a special media committee. A presidential spokesperson justified the law, stating a desire for state media to be “impartial, objective, and reliable,” arguing the current structure didn’t allow for it. Under this media law, contracts for senior executives at Telewizja Polska and Polskie Radio would end, and the Ministry of Finance would appoint their successors. A total of 141 journalists were dismissed, forced to resign, or moved to lower positions between the 2015 election and May 2016. 


In the months leading up to the 2015 parliamentary elections, a third of the seats on the Constitutional Tribunal became vacant due to retirements. The ruling coalition at the time, led by the Civic Platform party, passed a law allowing the outgoing parliament to appoint all five judges. However, the Constitutional Tribunal later ruled that this law was unconstitutional because the outgoing parliament lacked the authority to appoint all five judges, only three. Despite this ruling, the newly elected Law and Justice government disregarded the decision and issued a resolution declaring the election of all five judges invalid. The parliament then appointed replacements for these judges the day before the Constitutional Tribunal announced its decision. On the night before the decision, President Andrzej Duda hastily swore in four judges appointed by Law and Justice. Additionally, in December 2016, President Duda appointed a Law and Justice-supported judge, Julia Przylebska, as the president of the Constitutional Tribunal. Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Law and Justice, widely considered Poland’s most powerful figure despite formally being just a member of parliament, had previously referred to the Constitutional Tribunal as “a bastion of everything that is wrong in Poland”.


EU institutions, led by the European Commission under Vice President Frans Timmermans, expressed concerns about Poland’s rule of law. In January 2016, the Commission launched an investigation under Article 7 of the Lisbon Treaty, marking the first such scrutiny of a member state’s legal system. In July 2016, the Commission issued a recommendation urging Poland to respect the Constitutional Tribunal’s decisions from December 2015 and reinstate lawfully appointed judges. By December 2016, the Commission gave Poland two months to repeal new regulations concerning the Constitutional Tribunal. Poland’s Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski responded that the government advocates for a “normal democracy” where election winners have the right to govern.


Over its eight years in power, PiS eroded democratic structures in Poland. Additionally, the party has articulated a clear nationalism and adopted staunchly conservative positions on various social issues such as LGBTQ rights and abortion rights. In economic policy, the party has positioned itself slightly left of center, consistently investing in welfare, social transfers, and the like. It maintains a soft criticism of the EU, continually questioning the legitimacy of decisions made in Brussels without advocating for or actively pursuing Poland’s withdrawal from the union. Unlike many other populist parties in Europe, PiS has consistently been critical of Russia under Putin’s leadership.

Pavel Kukiz.

Alongside PiS, there exists a considerable number of nationalist, far-right, populist, and/or authoritarian parties that have secured seats in parliament. Many of these parties form ever-changing electoral alliances, making the party system difficult to comprehend.

Sovereign Poland is a nationalist and conservative catholic party who has been represented in parliament since 2015 through electoral alliances with PiS. It currently holds 18 seats.

Kukiz’ 15 was established by rock singer Pavel Kukiz who surprisingly got 20 percent of the votes in the 2015 presidential election on a nationalist platform. In the parliamentary election the same year, his party garnered eight percent of the vote. Since then, Kukiz has participated in electoral coalitions, losing all but two MPs in the 2023 elections. The party is eurosceptic, in favour of direct democracy and wants to switch from the proportional to a majoritarian first-past-the-post electoral system.

Konfederacja (The Confederation Freedom and Independence), formed in 2018, is an electoral coalition that obtained nearly seven percent of the vote in 2019 and repeated this feat in 2023. Konfederacja comprises a multitude of parties, the majority of which are radical nationalists, with several holding anti-Semitic positions. It also includes parties that advocate for changing Poland’s political system to a presidential system or monarchy. They have campaigned against immigration and hold strong socially conservative views, with uncompromising opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights. In economic matters, they lean distinctly to the right. Additionally, they have been highly critical of pandemic-related restrictions.

EP elections

Number of authoritarian or populist MEP:s (2019): 27/52


Pis originally joined the UEN group in 2004 but has been a leading member of the ECR group since its formation in 2009. Both LPR (Ind/Dem) and SD (UEN) won representation in 2004 but lost their MEP:s in 2009. In 2014, Janusz Korwin-Mikke was elected an MEP for his then party KPN. In 2019, Poland only sent MEP:s to three EP groups (EPP, S&D and ECR), despite having a total of 52 seats.

PIS summary

Economics: CENTER-LEFT
Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: LOW

Konfederacja summary

Economics: RIGHT
Social issues: CONSERVATIVE
Democratic credibility: LOW