Russian president Putin in Yekaterinburg Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Why Are Illiberal Democrats Popular?

Illiberal leaders like Russia's Vladimir Putin, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Hungary's Viktor Orbán have managed to concentrate power without losing popular support. As their mounting authoritarianism undermines prudent economic policies, however, they will find it increasingly difficult to keep the electorate happy.

BRUSSELS – The rise of “illiberal democracy” in Europe is one of the most baneful trends of our time. These regimes are typically centered on a leader who concentrates power by overriding – and in some cases eliminating – institutional checks and balances. Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and Hungary’s Viktor Orbán represent three of the most visible manifestations of this phenomenon. But what is really noteworthy – and dangerous – is how these regimes have been able to retain popular support.

Control over traditional media, like television, radio and newspapers, is of course one reason why these regimes maintain their electoral majorities. But manipulation, or even outright control, of the media cannot explain the enduring popularity, borne out by opinion polls, of illiberal leaders.